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Basic Information

A lion is a large cat species (Pantera Leo) - several subspecies exist, and there are also non-related species that are called lions (for example "mountain lions" are in fact a type of puma). Male lions have a distinctive mane of hair (although this distinction is less pronounced in some subspecies and populations and specific individuals may also be maneless with no apparent defect to their health or fertility) and are larger than the females as is typical for mammals. Both genders are tan to golden brown in colour, with the males' manes being significantly darker on average - and again, sub-populations can show much darker fur, to the extent of being almost black. On average, they are the second largest species of big cats currently alive, with only the tiger being larger.

The species is, by default, social with the standard unit being a "pride" - a polygynous family group of (normally one) male, a number of females and any immature offspring of the group. Lone individuals are typically young males, cast out of their father's pride and yet to establish their own. Sighting a lone female usually means that you have missed one or more lionesses moving up behind you.

Lions are only active for about 4 hours a day, and spend the rest of their time napping and lazing about. Most hunting is done by the females - they usually hunt at night, and hunt in groups. They attempt to sneak up or surround their prey. They have relatively small hearts for their bodies, and cannot run as far or for as long as other large predators. Males are usually only brought hunting when seeking large prey that needs more strength and weight to bring down than the females can provide.

They are sometimes known as "king of the jungle" or "king of the beasts" and are often associated with royalty in heraldry or mythology.

Two of history's more egregious lions were the Man Eaters of Tsavo.

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