9 Curiosities About the Lion's Mane

The lion is the only feline that has a mane. Here we bring you 9 fascinating curiosities about it.
9 Curiosities About the Lion's Mane
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

The lion’s mane is an obvious aspect that differentiates males from females. These felines show their superiority and dominance with their flamboyant, elegant, imposing hair. However, have you ever wondered what their mane is for, and if any lions don’t have it?

If you’re curious about this, you have come to the right place. Here we’ll bring you some amazing features related to the lion’s mane.

Curiosities about the lion’s mane

A lion.

The lion (Panthera leo) is a large, carnivorous feline and an agile, fast hunter. Its mane is a distinguishing feature. It appears in males as a thick layer of hair that extends around the face and neck above the ears and can even cover them. Here are some interesting facts related to this striking feature.

1. The origin of the lion’s mane

The history of lions began in Africa, around 2 million years ago. From there, they spread to other continents (Asia, Europe, and America). According to evidence in cave paintings, it’s thought that the first of these felines didn’t have a mane.

One of the hypotheses is that this trait appeared in African populations some 200 to 300 thousand years ago. The animals with this characteristic had a certain selective advantage, which allowed the expansion of the lions with a mane in the rest of the continents and the replacement of the individuals that didn’t have one.

2. The lion is the only feline with a mane

Within the feline family (Felidae) there are about 40 species, including tigers, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, pumas, and other cats (both wild and domestic). Of these, the lion is the only specimen with a mane, which is a marked feature of sexual dimorphism in females and males.

3. They vary from lion to lion

The mane is variable in terms of coloration. They can range from blond to reddish, to brownish. Generally, older lions have darker tones in their manes. Discrepancies have also been observed in terms of density, with some lions having thicker manes than others.

These differences in the appearance of manes depend on several factors such as genetics, age, testosterone production and even climatic conditions.

4. Lions are born without a mane

While it’s true that the mane is a distinguishable and noticeable feature in males, they aren’t born with it. Their development occurs between 11 and 12 months of age, when young lions begin the hormonal production of testosterone, an interesting fact regarding the growth of these felines.

5. It facilitates reproduction

The mane’s function is to facilitate reproduction, because it’s an eye-catching feature that females pay a lot of attention to. This is because it reflects the state of health and fighting ability of the male. Lionesses want strong, healthy, long-lived and fertile specimens for their offspring, i.e. with long, dark manes. This provides a better defense for the pride and its offspring.

It was originally thought that lions had manes in order to help them defend themselves better during fights with other lions. This was because they could avoid bites in the neck area. These days this hypothesis has been abandoned, as recent studies confirm the reproductive advantages of lions with better manes.

Manes also send information to other lions about their likelihood of winning a fight between males. One lion might refrain from fighting a rival with a longer, darker mane.

6. Lion manes produce more heat

As logic tells us, the more hair, the higher the body temperature and so it is with manes. So, not everything is rosy and the king of the jungle can also suffer heat stress thanks to his best attribute.

There is some research that proves this premise. The research also shows that the length and density of manes can vary seasonally or geographically, thanks to the prevailing climatic conditions.

7. Lionesses don’t need manes

Manes are an eye-catching attribute, but they also come at a high cost. Lions may be more visible to prey and lose agility because of this feature. We have also stated that they produce more heat and energy expenditure.

Lionesses are usually in charge of the hunt, and so a mane would hinder their work. In this way, they are more likely to go unnoticed.

8. Are there any lions without manes?

Although it may seem surprising, there are lions without manes: those of Tsavo, a National Park located in southern Kenya, in Africa. Unlike in other parts of the world, males in this area either have very little mane or none at all.

The explanation is simple, it’s a place of extreme heat and low annual rainfall, so having a mane would be very risky for lions due to the energy they would lose.

9. And lionesses with manes?

A lion's mane.

Our last curiosity is equally surprising – there are also lionesses with manes! The observations were made in Botswana, in the Okavango Delta, regarding five female lions. In addition to this, they exhibited masculine behavior such as frequent loud roars, leaving scent marks, or even mounting other females.

The hypothesis is that these are cases of lionesses with higher testosterone production. They’re also believed to be infertile.

As you may have noticed, every animal adaptation has a reason. The lion’s mane has a purpose that’s well supported by research. It’s usually present in males to give them a reproductive advantage. However, this isn’t always the case, and you now know that one day you may get the chance to see a male lion without this attribute or a lioness with a mane!

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Gilfillan, G., McNutt, J., Vitale, J., de Iongh, H., & Golabek, K. (2016). Rare observation of the existence and masculine behaviour of maned lionesses in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. African Journal of Ecology, 55(3), 383–385.
  • Kays, R., & Patterson, B. (2002). Mane variation in African lions and its social correlates. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 80, 471–478.
  • Patterson, B., Kays, R., Kasiki, S., Sebestyen, B. (2006). Developmental effects of climate on the lion’s mane (Panthera leo). Journal of Mammalogy, 87(2),193–200
  • West, P., & Packer, C. (2002). Sexual selection, temperature, and the lion’s mane. Science, 297(5585):1339-43.
  • Yamaguchi, N., Cooper,A., Werdelin, L., MacDonald, D. (2004). Evolution of the mane and group-living in the lion (Panthera leo): a review. Journal of Zoology, 263, 329–342.

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