Lion: Characteristics, Habitat, Reproduction, Feeding

The lion ( Panthera leo ) is a placental mammal belonging to the Felidae family. Males are muscular, large in size and have a prominent mane. Females are smaller and do not have a mane.

This animal is the second largest feline that currently exists. Wild species inhabit the sub-Saharan Africa region and the Asian continent. In the Giren Forest National Park in India, there is a remnant population that is in danger of extinction.

Source: pixabay.com

Due to their geographical location they are usually divided into two groups: African and Asian lions. The Asian subspecies ( Panthera leo persica ) is smaller than the African ones. In addition, his hair is shorter.

The Asiatic lion’s coat is light brown and its mane is reddish. They have a longitudinal fold in the skin of their belly that differentiates them from the species that inhabit Africa.

Lions have an excellent sense of hearing. They can turn their ears in various directions, thus listening to different sounds in the environment. At the end of their tail they have a dark colored plume. 
The force of the lion’s roar warns potential intruders who are invading its territory.

Article index

  • one

    Danger of extinction

    • 1.1

      Causes

    • 1.2

      Conservation measures

  • two

    Evolution

    • 2.1

      New findings

  • 3

    General characteristics

    • 3.1

      Heart

    • 3.2

      Teeth

    • 3.3

      Paws and claws

    • 3.4

      Mane

    • 3.5

      Color

    • 3.6

      Tongue

    • 3.7

      Eyes

    • 3.8

      Size

    • 3.9

      Olfactory acuity

  • 4

    Taxonomy

    • 4.1

      Genus Panthera

  • 5

    Habitat and distribution

    • 5.1

      Eurasia

  • 6

    Behaviour

    • 6.1

      Communication

    • 6.2

      Vocalizations

    • 6.3

      Social

    • 6.4

      Hunting

  • 7

    Reproduction

  • 8

    Feeding

  • 9

    References

Danger of extinction

Since 1996, lions have been included as vulnerable specimens on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is because the populations of this species in African countries have decreased by around 43% since the mid-20th century.

Although this species is listed as vulnerable, the IUCN separates it into two subspecies, placing the Asian lion in Appendix I. This implies that this animal is in danger of extinction and its trade is absolutely prohibited.

Causes

Among the causative agents of this decline is their hunting by humans. Sometimes they are assassinated as part of a kind of bravery ritual, being considered trophies.

A new threat is the commercialization of your flesh, bones, and other organs in your body. These are used by some people as alternative medicine, both in Africa and on the Asian continent.

In addition to this, the lion is losing its natural habitat, motivated by the expansion of human populations and all that this entails: roads, settlements, fields, among others.

This has notably reduced antelope, wildebeest and zebra, part of the diet of these cats. This situation has motivated the lions to approach herds of cattle to hunt them, for which they are sacrificed.

Conservation measures

Numerous laws promulgated by the laws of the countries where the lion lives and by numerous international organizations protect these cats. Their hunting is prohibited and heavily penalized.

Conservation activities for African species are aimed at housing them in protected areas, while all Asian lions are protected by the laws of India.

Some national parks that act as refuges are the Etosha National Park, in Namibia, the Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania and the Gir Forest National Park, located in the state of Gujarat-India.

Evolution

The lion evolved about 1 million years ago in Africa. From there it spread to Europe, Asia and North America. The Panthera leo fossilis was found in Italy, about 7000,000 years ago during the Early and Middle Pleistocene. This ancestor of the lion came to measure about 240 centimeters.

The felines migrated from Africa, in the Middle Pleistocene, to Europe, North America and Asia. This distribution occurred through the Beringia land bridge, which was formed as a product of the last ice age.

In South America it spread to the southern part of Peru. In this way they became the most widespread group of land mammals during the late Pleistocene, more than 10 million years ago.

Some current genetic studies suggest that the cave lion ( P. l. Spelaea ) was derived from Panthera leo fossilis . This was distributed from Spain and Great Britain to Alaska.

The DNA sequence of the fossil remains of Panthera leo spelaea indicates that it could be the ancestor of the American lion ( P. l. Atrox ). Its origin may be due to the geographic isolation of this primitive species south of the North American ice cap, a fact that occurred around 340,000 years.

New findings

Studies have recently been conducted on the evolution of lions. For this, genetic tests were carried out that included the analysis in the mitochondrial DNA sequence of the Barbary lion ( Panthera leo leo ), the Iranian lion ( Panthera leo persica ), and the living species of central and western Africa.

Based on these results, it is estimated that the current lions began to diverge in the late Pleistocene stage. The expansion of the equatorial rainforest may have separated the lions of southeastern Africa into other distinct populations.

The felines of western Africa migrated to the central area of ​​that continent, due to the reduction of the tropical forest. Asia suffered two incursions from North Africa, first in India and later in the Middle East.

Natodomeri Lion

In Kenya the skull of a lion equivalent to the Pleistocene Panthera spelaea was found . This species could represent a hitherto unknown lion subspecies, which was present during the Middle and Late Pleistocene in eastern Africa.  

General characteristics

Heart

The lion’s heart is small in proportion to its body size. This characteristic of the main organ of the circulatory system means that this animal cannot carry out very long chases.

Even if it could run after its prey at a speed of almost 50 miles per hour, it might not be able to catch up with it. In this case, you may possibly stop the chase, thus conserving your energy.

Teeth

The characteristic of the teeth and the strong structure of the lion’s jaw play a fundamental role in hunting, feeding and in their way of life. In general, the teeth are designed to capture their prey in motion, even in the case of those animals that are larger in size.

In addition to this, the jaw is extremely powerful, flexible and strong. The lion can open it approximately 28 centimeters wide, being one of the largest bites in the entire animal kingdom.

The incisors are the smallest teeth at the front of the mouth, they are used to grab meat and to tear it apart. They have four canines, located on both sides of the incisors, which reach up to seven centimeters. They are used to tear and tear the skin.

Carnassial teeth are sharp and act like scissors, allowing it to cut through the meat of its prey.

Paws and claws

The front legs have 5 toes and 4 toes on the hind legs. They have a fifth toe on the front leg, used to hold prey while it eats it.

Their claws are sharp and retractable, so they can stretch them out and then reinsert them into the skin, where they are hidden. The claws are made of keratin and can measure up to 38 millimeters long. To keep them sharp, lions frequently scratch the bark of trees.

Mane

This is the main characteristic that identifies the males of this species. The calf is born without a mane and begins to grow at around two years of age.

This group of hairs that grow around the head and neck, are longer and of a different texture than the rest of the lion’s fur. They have various shades, darkening as they age.

Research shows that the color and dimensions of the mane are influenced by various factors in the environment, including ambient temperature. Other factors associated with the characteristics of the mane are genetics and testosterone levels.

Manes that are dark in color and are very dense could indicate that the lion is in good health and that its testosterone levels are high.

The lions that inhabit Tsavo, in Kenya, have underdeveloped manes, even lacking them. This geographical area is characterized by having a high ambient temperature.

The studies carried out in this group of African lions concluded that the absence of this protective ornament would be related to their survival, since if they had it, it would cause a body overheating.

Features

Within social and reproductive life, the mane fulfills several functions. One of these is bullying. Density and size influence the projection of a larger appearance, looking menacing in front of opponents. In addition to this, it makes it a symbol of potency and health.

It also serves as a barrier to protect their neck from the claws and bites they may suffer in combat. Its role in reproduction is undeniable. A dark and bushy mane turns out to be a great attraction for females.

However, that attractive mane makes the lion easily visualized within its habitat, so it can be quickly located by predators. In addition, when it chases an animal to hunt it, although it is an activity almost exclusively for the female, its prey can almost immediately notice its presence.

Color

The coat is short, varying in color from pale yellow, tan orange, to a deep brown hue. The lower part of his body is lighter. The ears, on the back, and the tuft on its tail are usually darker than the rest of the fur, even becoming black.

Puppies are born with brown rosettes that disappear as they age.

There is a species of lion, the Panthera leo krugeri , known as the white lion. Its coat is very light, in soft yellow tones. However, a natural mutation, known as leucism, could occur in this species. This occurs because they have a recessive gene called a color inhibitor.

These animals are not albinos, since their eyes have their normal color. Similarly, contrary to albinism, they are not sensitive to solar radiation.

Tongue

The tongue is rough in texture, resembling sandpaper. The surface is covered with papillae, in the form of small spines. These have a rearward orientation, allowing you to scrape the meat off the bones, in addition to removing dirt from the skin.

Eyes

The lion has a second eyelid, it is a nictitating membrane that works as a protector of the eye. When these animals want to look in various directions, they have to turn their heads, because they cannot move their eyes from one side to the other.

The white patch under their eyes helps reflect the moonlight, which helps them when hunting at night.

Size

Male lions are heavier and larger than females. The average weight of the lion oscillates the 230 kilograms, while in the female it is 126 kilograms.

An adult specimen measures two to three meters, not including its tail. The lioness has a length that ranges from 1.5 meters, weighing between 120 and 180 kilograms.

Asiatic lions ( P. l. Persica ) are slightly smaller. Males weigh a maximum of 190 kg and measure between 170 and 180 centimeters. The lionesses weigh approximately 110 kilograms.

Olfactory acuity

When lions perceive a scent that catches their attention, they make a series of expressions, known as the Flehmen response. The animal wrinkles its nose and draws back its upper lips, opening its mouth as if it were wincing.

This will allow more of the aroma to enter through the nostrils, thus retaining the odors for a few seconds. In this way, the chemical stimulus acts on the Jacobson’s organ, exciting the sensory neurons that form it.

This characteristic allows the animal to perceive the presence of another animal, which could be its prey or a threat to it. It can also distinguish odors such as urine in the environment.

Taxonomy

Animal Kingdom.

Subkingdom Bilateria.

Infra-kingdom Deuterostomy.

Chordate Phylum.

Vertebrate Subfilum.

Infrafilum Gnathostomata.

Tetrapoda superclass.

Mammal class.

Subclass Theria.

Infraclass Eutheria.

Order Carnivora.

Suborder Feliformia.

Felidae family.

Subfamily Pantherinae.

Gender

 Panthera

Five species belong to this group: the lion, the leopard, the tiger, the snow leopard and the jaguar. This genus comprises about half of all big cats.

The lion, the jaguar, the tiger and the leopard are the only ones that have the ability to roar, because they have morphological adaptations in their larynx and vocal cords.

Species Panthera leo

Source: pixabay.con redesigned by Johanna Caraballo

Habitat and distribution

Lions live in a variety of habitats: grasslands, open forests, dense brush, and savannas. At different times in history they were found in large regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Today they are mostly found in Africa and some populations in Asia, where they live under strict protection in Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in India.

African species tend to live in plains or savannas, where there is an abundance of grasses and prey, mostly hoofed mammals. They can also be found in wooded regions, shrubs, mountainous and semi-desert areas. It is absent in closed forests and tropical forests.

Your body is adapted to live at great heights. In the mountains of Ethiopia, located at 4,240 m, some populations make life. On Mount Elgon, between Uganda and Kenya, the lion has been located up to an elevation of 3,600 m.

Eurasia

Previously the lion spread from Greece to India. In the Middle Ages, this species was eradicated from Palestine. With the advent of firearms, this feline became extinct in the rest of the Asian continent. At the end of the 19th century, he was no longer in India or Turkey.

The present-day Asiatic lion survives in Gir Forest National Park in western India. This park is located within a natural reserve destined to the protection of species that are in danger of becoming extinct.

The climate is tropical dry, although it has winter and summer seasons marked, where the temperature can reach 43 ° C. The first days of June the atmosphere becomes humid.

Behaviour

Communication

These animals socialize through various behaviors. Among these, the tactile expressions are varied. The most common are head rubbing and licking. The head, face, neck and forehead brushing against each other seems to be a form of greeting.

Licking the head and neck usually occurs together while rubbing. In general, they tend to do it with each other and the animal expresses pleasure when receiving it.

Vocalizations

The lion generally roars at night, and can be heard from 8 kilometers. It begins with some long, very deep roars, after which it makes a few short ones. The roar of the male is louder than that emitted by the female.

The roar is used to communicate with the other members of the pride and to demonstrate aggressiveness towards other lions. It could also be a way of bonding socially, since they usually do it in chorus

Social

This big cat is one of the most social species of the Pantherinae subfamily. They have two ways of grouping, one of them is the residents, where they live in groups called herds. It is made up of 1 or 2 males, 5 or 6 females and their young.

The grouping of males is known as a coalition, which can be made up of one or two males, with up to four members. Once the males reach maturity, they are expelled from the maternal group. Males belonging to a herd patrol the territory.

The other way to organize is nomadic, where the animal, alone or in pairs, moves freely through the land. The lion can change from nomad to resident whenever he sees fit.

Males and females defend the herd against intruders. Females in the same pride cooperate with each other in raising their cubs, while males are aggressive towards other members of the group, especially when they are eating.

Hunting

Lionesses are the ones that carry the greatest weight when hunting those animals that are part of the diet. Their anatomy is adapted for this, since they are small, agile and much faster than male lions.

Despite this, the males may want to dominate what the females have caught. However, as the maintenance of the pride depends on the health of the lioness, it often feeds first on the prey it has hunted.

Lions often dominate the smaller cats with whom they coexist in their habitat, such as leopards and cheetahs. Lions steal their dead prey and kill their cubs.

Cheetahs prevent their prey from being stolen by climbing high on tree branches. However, the lionesses could climb the logs and take them.

Reproduction

The males are sexually mature at 5 years and the female at 4. The lions are polygynous and reproduce at any time of the year.

Before starting copulation, the male may caress the female, licking her shoulder, neck, or back. During this process, the female usually purrs. Once they have copulated, the male may gently bite her on the neck.

Because there are more females than males in a herd, there is little competition during mating.

The lion’s penis has thorns that cause severe discomfort to the lioness when it is withdrawn. This pain is exacerbated because the penis is mobile, so the male can move it from one side to the other. All this could cause ovulation in the female.

The lionesses are poliostrosas, being the duration of the estrus between 4 and 7 days. They have postpartum estrus, which occurs only if the calf does not survive.

Gestation lasts approximately 120 days. Before giving birth, the lioness wanders away from the pride, giving birth in a hidden place. The litter is usually between one or six puppies.

Feeding

Lions rest for long hours a day. They are generally most active after dark, continuing until dawn, when they hunt most frequently. These animals are predatory carnivores, they usually hunt in groups, although the killing of the prey is carried out individually.

The attractiveness of the male, due to its large mane, makes it more difficult for them to capture prey. Because of this, lionesses are the ones that mostly carry out hunting tasks. To catch its prey, the lion makes a short attack, with a quick jump, killing the animal by strangulation.

The lions of Africa eat mainly hoofed mammals that inhabit their territory. Among them are wildebeest, gazelles, impalas and zebras. Some herds attack large animals such as buffalo and giraffe.

Those lions that cannot hunt large animals choose to catch birds, reptiles, ostrich eggs, among other foods. They also take the carrion of vultures or hyenas.

Members of this feline species found in Asia hunt singly or in packs. Their preferred prey are chital, sambar and axis deer, antelope, Indian buffalo and wild boar.

References

  1. Wikipedia (2018). Lion. Recovered from en.wikipedia.com.
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  3. Encyclopedia of life (2018). Panthera leo. Recovered from eol.org.
  4. Alert (2018). Panthera leo. Recovered from lionalert.org.
  5. Encyclopedia britannica (2018). Lion. Recovered from britannica.com.
  6. Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (2018). Lion. Recovered from nationalzoo.si.edu.
  7. Arita, Héctor T. 2008. The lions of Tsavo. Sciences. Recovered from revistaciencias.unam.mx.
  8. Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, PF, Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. 2016. Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Recovered from iucnredlist.org.
  9. Ross Barnet, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, Beth Shapiro, Simon YW Ho, Ian Barnes, Richard Sabin, Lars Werdelin, Jacques Cuisin and Greger Larson (2014). Revealing the maternal demographic history of Panthera leo using ancient DNA and a spatially explicit genealogical analysis. BMC Evolutionary Biology. Recovered from bmcevolbiol.biomedcentral.com.
  10. Fredrick K. Manthi, Francis H. Brown, Michael J. Plavcan, Lars Werdelin (2017). Gigantic lion, Panthera leo, from the Pleistocene of Natodomeri, eastern Africa. Journal of Paleontology. Recovered from cambridge.org.
  11. ITIS (2018). Phanthera leo. Recovered from itis.gov.

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