92 Roaring Facts about Lions

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published December 28, 2016
  • Two thousand years ago, over a million lions roamed throughout regions that covered Europe, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and India. In the 1940s, lions numbered 450,000. Today, there are as few as 32,000 on Earth.[9]
  • Aslan is the Turkish and Mongolian word for “lion.” It is also the name of the lion in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.[19]
  • Lions are the second largest of the big cats, after tigers.[17]
  • The darker a male lion’s mane is, the older he is.[8]
  • Female lions prefer to mate with males that have the longest and darkest manes.[3]
  • Unlike most other cats, lions are great swimmers.n[14]
  • A lion can leap as far as 36 feet.[3]
  • Lunchtime!
  • Lions eat about 18 pounds of meat per day. That would be like a human eating more than 70 hamburgers.[3]
  • The lion is the only member of the cat family that has a tasseled tail. The tassel doesn’t just look good, it also relays messages such as “come this way.” A tassel first appears when a lion is 5–7 months old.[14]
  • Only about 1 in 8 male lions survive to adulthood. A majority of lions die shortly after being kicked out of their pride around the age of 2.[3]
  • When taking over a new territory and pride, some male lions will form a “coalition,” or a group of 3 or 4 males. They will fight the resident male lion, often to the death, and kill all his cubs.[9]
  • In 2002, much to the surprise of conservationists, a lioness adopted and protected a baby antelope. However, two weeks later, a male lion ate the baby while the lioness slept. The lioness appeared to be stricken with grief and walked around roaring in anger.[11]
  • As tiger bones are becoming scarcer, poachers are turning toward lion bones to supply the intense demands of traditional medicine in Asia.[5]
  • Trophy hunting is devastating for lions for several reasons. First, when an adult male (the most sought-after trophy) is killed, his death destabilizes and may destroy an entire pride. Second, it wipes out the genes of the largest and most healthy males.[6]
  • A male lion can stretch up to 10 feet long and weigh 400–500 pounds, about the same as eight or nine small children or over 50 pet cats. Females typically weigh 250–350 pounds.[1]
  • Although the lion is known as “the king of the jungle,” lions do not live in jungles. They live only in grasslands and plains.[8]
  • Lions do not live in the jungle, even though they have been dubbed "King of the Jungle"
  • In Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the lion symbolizes someone who has rebelled against traditional knowledge to create a new morality, which is known as the morality of the Übermensch.[8]
  • Just a century ago, there were over 200,000 lions living in Africa. Today, there are only 15,000–32,000 left.[9]
  • Lions can run up to 50 mph, but only in a straight line and only for a few seconds at a time. Consequently, lions get as close as they can to their prey before they start the chase.[3]
  • African lions are listed as vulnerable, with numbers continuing to dramatically decline. They are the only big cat not currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, and pro-hunters are strongly lobbying against placing the lion on the list.[6]
  • The two majestic stone lions that stand guard outside the New York Public library are named Patience and Fortitude. They were named in the 1930s to reflect the qualities New Yorkers exhibited during the Great Depression.[8]
  • The two bronze lions outside The Art Institute of Chicago were made for its opening in 1893. The south lion is (unofficially) named “In an Attitude of Defiance,” and the north lion is named “On the Prowl.”[7]
  • A Turkish proverb states: “A lion sleeps in the heart of every brave man.”[3]
  • Fear not, we are of the nature of the lion, and cannot descend to the destruction of mice and such small beasts.

    - Elizabeth I

  • Male lions are the only big cats that look different than the females of the species.[19]
  • A lion’s roar is the loudest of any big cat and can be heard up to 5 miles (8 km) away. A tiger’s roar can be heard for roughly 2 miles (3 km). Of the big cats, only the tiger, lion, leopard, and jaguar can roar.[8]
  • Lions can see six times better in the dark than a human. At night, a reflective coating on the back of their eyes helps capture moonlight. Additionally, they have a white patch of fur underneath their eyes that helps to reflect even more light.[3]
  • A lion’s bite is 30 times stronger than the bite of a housecat. They actually have the weakest bite of all the big cats, at 600 psi. The jaguar has the strongest bite force of any big cat at 2000 psi. The animal with the strongest bite of all is the Nile crocodile at 5000 psi.[2]
  • The lion is the most social of all big cats.[3]
  • Lions have been used as symbols in several famous literary works, including the Cowardly Lion in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. The lion is also used as a symbol for the Gryffindor house in the Harry Potter series.[8]
  • In 2015, a female African lioness attacked and killed a 29-year-old American woman through a jeep window. Signs throughout the park warned visitors to keep windows rolled up. After an investigation, park officials decided not to execute the lioness and instead moved her to a more private part of the park.[18]
  • Hippos are more dangerous than lions
  • The most dangerous land animal in Africa is not the lion but the hippopotamus. Hippos kill about 500 people a year; lions kill around 100. The deadliest animal on the planet, however, is actually much smaller than both: the mosquito, which causes 725,000 deaths per year.[10]
  • Tanzania has the largest population of lions in Africa.[9]
  • White lions are still African lions but they exhibit a recessive trait derived from a less severe mutation that causes albinism. According to some legends, White lions are messengers from God and ensure peace and prosperity.[3]
  • Asiatic lions, cousin of African lions, once were found from India all the way to Europe. Today, there are fewer than 300 left. The only place they live in the wild is in Gir National Park in India.[3]
  • In the wild, male lions live for 12–16 years. Lionesses live for about 15–18. In captivity, male lions can live over 20 years.[3]
  • Lions are not as fast as other types of big cats, such as leopards and tigers. They hunt using teamwork and rely more on strength than speed to catch and kill prey.[17]
  • “Canned” or captive lion hunting is when lions are “farmed” to be hunted in enclosed spaces that make them easy targets. Companies will often send out catalogs so prospective hunters can choose the exact animal they want to kill. The cost to kill a lion ranges from $5,400 to $48,000, depending on size and condition of the lion.[4]
  • Male lions may mate up to 100 times in two days to ensure that the female is pregnant. Each mating lasts only a few seconds. Female lions are pregnant with their cubs for about 3½ months.[3]
  • Lion prides are usually described as matriarchal, with communal care for the young. Most lionesses in a pride are related and remain in the same pride for life. Only two or three lions within a pride will be males, who are either brothers or pride-mates.[9]
  • A dominant male in a pride has two jobs. First, he must mate with all the females in the pride and, second, he must defend the pride from other males who want to take over. Male lions usually can keep control over a pride for 4 years.[9]
  • By sleeping so much, lions can also decrease their energetic needs
  • Among all the big cats, lions nap the most, sleeping up to 22 hours a day. Additionally, male lions not only let the lioness do about 90% of the pride’s hunting, they also have first dibs on eating the caught prey.[3]
  • Lions hunt mostly at night and have about a 50% success rate.[3]
  • A lion pride’s territory can stretch up to 100 square miles and can cover grasslands, open woodland, and scrubs.[3]
  • Lionesses will often bring back a small animal, such as a baby antelope, alive so that the cubs can practice their hunting skills.[3]
  • Lions come in several different colors, including tan, brown, yellow, and even red.[3]
  • Lions live in prides of 2 to 40 members, with the average pride consisting of 13 animals.[9]
  • There are two surviving species of lions: African and Asian. There are about six subspecies of African lions.[3]
  • A male lion’s mane starts to grow at about 18 months old and will continue to grow until a lion is 5 years old.[3]
  • The famous MGM lion is named “Leo the Lion” and has opened every one of its movies since 1929. Five different lions have been used for MGM’s iconic feline. Around the circle that frames Leo is the MGM motto: Ars Gratia Artis (“Art for Art’s Sake”).[1]
  • Lions are the national animal of several countries, including Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, England, Ethiopia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Singapore.[3]
  • A lion’s pupil is three times as big as a human’s. But a lion can’t move its eyes side to side very well, so it moves its entire head when it needs to look in a different direction.[3]
  • Domestic cats have vertical slits, but bigger cats, like tigers and lions, don't
  • If a lioness breeds with a male leopard, their offspring is a leopon. The head of a leopon is similar to that of a lion while the body more closely resembles a leopard. A leopon is more often produced in captivity than in the wild.[3]
  • A lioness and male jaguar hybrid is known as a jaglion.[3]
  • If a lioness breeds with a male tiger, the resulting hybrid is a tigon. A liger is the offspring of a male lion and tigress. Each has parents from the same genus but of different species.[3]
  • Lions will scavenge whenever they get chance. In fact, scavenging provides more than half of a lion’s diet.[3]
  • The scientific name for lion is Panthera leo. The lion is one of the five big cats in the genus Panthera and is a member of the family Felidae. The other four members of the genus are the tiger, jaguar, leopard, and snow leopard.[14]
  • The most common lion is the African lion, and with their tan coats and loud roars, they are the animals most people think of when they think of lions.[3]
  • It is a common belief that lion claws are retractable. Actually they are protractible, which means that when the animal is at rest, the claws are sheathed. This protects the claws and helps keeps them sharp. If their claws were retractable, lions would need to walk around tensing to keep the claws sheathed.[3]
  • A lion can roar at the age of 2.[8]
  • Until they reach age 2, lions cannot roar
  • The lion has a special tongue that is rough enough to peel the skin of their prey away from the flesh. If a lion licked the back of a human’s hand just a few times, it would peel away much of the skin.[3]
  • The African lion’s loose-skin belly allows it to be kicked by prey with little chance of injury.[3]
  • Lions can open their jaws up to 1 foot, which is larger than a human head. This gives them one of the biggest mouths in the animal kingdom.[3]
  • Lions have an interdigital scent gland between their toes, which is one reason why they like to scratch trees. Not only are they sharpening and cleaning their claws, they are also marking their territory.[3]
  • The killing of Cecil the lion by an American dentist in 2015 sparked a firestorm of controversy. Cecil was lured from a protected park, wounded with a crossbow, and then hunted down.[16]
  • The first of Heracles' twelve labours, set by King Eurystheus (his cousin) was to slay the Nemean lion
  • The most famous lion in ancient Greece mythology is the Nemean lion, which was killed by Heracles. It is represented in the constellation Leo and is also a sign of the Zodiac.[3]
  • Lions do not purr. The only member of the big cat family that does is the leopard.[17]
  • At the base of each lion’s whisker is a black spot. The patterns these spots make are unique to each lion, similar to a human’s fingerprint. Scientists are able to tell lions apart by looking at these patterns.[3]
  • When a lion curls up its top lip and pulls a funny face, it is usually using its Jacobson’s organ, which is a small area on the roof of the mouth that allows a lion to “taste” the air. By sticking out their tongues and showing their teeth, which is known as the “flehmen response,” they can determine if there is food close by and if it’s worth eating.[3]
  • Lions have a well-developed sense of hearing, which is enhanced by movable ears that can adjust to the direction of a sound. A lion can hear prey up to a mile away.[3]
  • The griffin is a mythic creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. This powerful creature symbolizes various qualities, such as the sun, wisdom, vengeance, strength, and salvation. The creature’s dual nature also can symbolize Jesus Christ’s resurrection or the strength and wisdom of God.[15]
  • A lion’s body is the foundation of one of Egypt’s largest single structures, the Great Sphinx.[16]
  • The lion hunt is an ancient symbol. Ancient political leaders would often draw their legitimacy from depicting their triumph over a lion. The real slaughter of lions, however, has mainly occurred only in the past 200 years.[16]
  • Lions are at risk of extinction by the year 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to save them.[13]
  • In Swahili, a lion is called simba.[3]
  • In Swahili, a lion is called simba
  • Farmers in East Africa use a poison named Furadan to kill lions. Just a handful sprinkled on an animal carcass can wipe out an entire pride of lions that feeds on it. The poison is so toxic that it has been banned in both the U.S. and the EU.[3]
  • Approximately 600 lions are killed every year by tourists on trophy hunts. An estimated 60% of these “trophies” are shipped to the U.S.[6]
  • In Botswana, 90% of the free-roaming lions are infected with FIV, the feline equivalent of human HIV.[3]
  • The earliest recorded images of lions are found in the Chauvet Cave in southern France dating back 32,000 years.[3]
  • Since the origin of civilization, images of lions have been used to represent majesty, awe, and leadership. Their depictions can be found in most civilizations including Paleolithic cultures, Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Middle Eastern, Persian, Jewish, Christian, many gnostic traditions, Arthurian legends, Islamic traditions, Hindu-Buddhist traditions, and Chinese and Eastern Asian traditions.[3]
  • Most lionesses remain in the same pride for life
  • Lionesses usually spend their whole lives in the same pride they were born in, while most male lions leave their prides when they are a few years old. If a lioness leaves a pride, she usually is not welcomed into a new group of lions and typically does not survive long.[14]
  • Famous leaders have used lions for nicknames, including Richard the Lionheart; Robert III, “the Lion of Flanders”; and “Lala Lajpat Rai, “The Lion of Punjab.”[3]
  • Damnatio ad bestias, Latin for “damnation to the beasts,” was a type of Roman capital punishment in which criminals and others were executed by wild animals, such as lions.[8]
  • Bulgaria’s currency is named Leva, which means “lion” in Old Bulgarian.[12]
  • Brigham Young, a Mormon prophet, housed many of his wives and children in a home called “The Lion House.”[8]
  • Images of a lion lying peacefully with other animals symbolize a paradise or Golden Age without conflict.[8]
  • In England, several kings kept lions in the Tower of London as part of “The Royal Menagerie.” The animals were symbols of power and as objects of curiosity in the 13th century.[8]
  • Saint Mark presents “a voice of one crying out in the desert, as if the roar of a lion"
  • The Bible mentions lions many times, including in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Judges, and in 1 Peter. Additionally, a lion symbolizes Mark the Evangelist as well as the entire tribe of Judah.[16]
  • In ancient Egypt, in was believed that a lion guarded the tunnel that the sun passed through at night. Additionally, two lions back to back depicted the past and the present.[8]
  • In alchemy, a green lion is often depicted as eating the sun, which symbolizes a substance that absorbs gold.[8]
  • Lion claws are three inches long, about the length of a human finger.[3]
  • Buffalo cause more lion deaths than any other prey species. Buffalo can weigh over a ton and carry 5-foot long horns on their head. Buffalo are fiercely protective and will charge at a lion.[3]
  • A lion can travel more than 12 miles in a single day or night.[3]
References

1Advertising Mascots—Animals.” TV Acres. 2015. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

2Aycinena, Alec. “Top 10 Animal Bites that Will Completely Destroy You.” ListVerse. November 5, 2012. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

3Blewett, Ashley with Daniel Raven-Ellison. Mission: Lion Rescue. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2014.

4Drury, Flora. “The Horror of ‘Canned Lions.’” Daily Mail. Updated August 11, 2015. Accessed: November 21, 2015.

5Evans, Becky. “West African Lion Virtually Extinct.” Daily Mail. Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed: November 21, 2015.

6Flocken, Jeff. “Opinion: Why Are We Still Hunting Lions?National Geographic. August 4, 2013. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

7Frequently Asked Questions.” The Art Institute of Chicago. 2015. Accessed: December 2, 2015.

8Julian, Terry. Lions in Our Lives. Victoria, Canada: Trafford, 2003.

9Klevansky, Rhonda. Big Cats (Exploring Nature). London, England: Anness Publishing Ltd., 2014.

10Lawler, David. “Which Animal Kills the Most Humans?The Telegraph. June 2, 2015. Accessed: November 21, 2015.

11Lioness Adopts Third Baby Antelope.” BBC News. April 1, 2002. Accessed: November 22, 2015.

12“Local Currency in Bulgaria.” Currencyname. 2015. Accessed: November 22, 2015.

13Main, Douglas. “Becoming King: Why So Few Male Lions Survive to Adulthood.” Live Science. November 27, 2013.

14Orme, Helen. Lions in Danger (Wildlife Survival). New York, NY: Bearport Publishing Company, 2007.

15Symbol.” Monstrous. 2009. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

16Tharoor, Ishaan. “Cecil the Lion and Mankind’s Long History of Both Revering and Destroying His Species.” The Washington Post. July 29, 2015. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

17Thomas, Isabel. Lion vs. Tiger (Animals Head to Head). Chicago, IL: Raintree, 2006.

18Thompson, Helen. “Yes, Lions Will Hunt Humans if Given the Chance.” June 5, 2015. Accessed: November 18, 2015.

19Welsbacher, Anne. Lions (Wild Cats). Edina, MN: Abdo Publishing Company, 2000.

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