Welcome to The Wild Lion young feline, we know you love lions, but did you know that lions are the only felines that live in groups? So how do lion groups work? That's what we're going to talk about today.
In this article, you will find out:
- How lion prides work
- The hierarchy between male and female lions in a pride
- The role of the male and female lion in a pride
- The benefits of lions living in a group
- and other stuff...
Let's find out all about this together now.
How many Lions are in a Pride?
Males, females and youngsters in various proportions make up the group where each one finds his place. The size of the group can vary from 1 female alone with her cubs to 40 individuals. On average, there are 15 individuals. The members of a pride are not always together, but they are still part of the same social unit.
Lions sometimes leave willingly or unwillingly, alone or in the company of other lions. Lion packs are fairly flexible structures. They vary in size over time, but while smaller pride tend to stay together, larger pride often form temporary sub-groups scattered throughout the territory.
The composition of these temporary groups is not random, but varies according to the individuals: there are special emotional bonds between some lions that make them group together more often.
How do Lions Greet each other?
When members of the same pride meet, they react peacefully because they recognize each other as individuals of the same pride. So when they meet, they greet each other by tilting their heads towards each other so as to rub their cheeks or the top of their eyes against the head of their companion.
If one of them is at rest, they only brush against each other, but the gesture is always the same. When they are together, lions have a frequent friendly relationship. They often rub their heads or other body parts against each other, they groom each other.
Male Lion Pride Hierarchy
There is rarely any rivalry between members of the same pack, because there is no hierarchy in the pack. No lioness can ever stand out as the leader of the pack, since they all take turns breeding and none of them defends her prey against a fellow lioness. Harmony is the rule in a pride of lions.
However, when famine begins to make itself felt, rivalries arise.
What do Lions do All Day?
The lions spend most of their time resting and the cubs are the most active. They are most active at night, especially during the first few hours after dusk and the five hours before and after dawn. Thus, during the same night, an adult male can travel an average of 5 kilometers wandering and spying in his territory.
The females' movements generally consist only of seaching for food and finding a shady place to rest during the day. Before moving, they are on the alert observing and listening to the surroundings before taking the most likely direction of the prey.
How do Lions Sleep?
The most common resting position for a lion is lying flat on its side, with its flank, head and four legs lying inert on the ground = dead lion position. When he is hot, he will roll over onto his back with one or more paws up, revealing his white fur.
If he finds this position uncomfortable because of the size of his stomach, he adopts the sphinx position or a crouching position. We also find lions that lie down with their two hind legs on the same side, extended and their head resting on the tips of their front legs. When they are awake, they often have the 2 hind legs extended on the same side while the front is sphinxed and the head raised. When they are on the alert, they just have to straighten their hind legs in sphinx position, ready to pounce.
When they stand up, they stretch like all felines. There are 2 ways to stretch: either they stand up with all their limbs together, then pull their head down and make their back round, or they pull their rump as high back as possible while their shoulders drop and their front legs stretch on the ground. They can also do this stretch against a tree trunk while pulling out their claws.
Male Lion Role
Males are not related to females but they are related to each other and were raised in another troop together. Nevertheless, while groups of more than 4 males are always related (from the same troop but not necessarily from the same mother), those of 2 males are rarely related and less frequently those of 3 males are always made up of 2 related parents with a "stranger".
Thus in many ways, males are less well integrated into the band. They always tend to separate themselves physically in some way: when females lie side by side, males are a few meters away; they rarely groom other band members. We can therefore consider that a group is composed of 2 sub-groups: the females and their cubs on the one hand and the males on the other hand, these 2 sub-groups associating for food and for reproduction.
The males, with their imposing morphology, are the guarantors of the group's security. When they do not sleep, which leaves them about 4 hours per day, they patrol their territory, defend it and mark it to make sure that no intruder will come to put in danger his troop which is for them a source of survival because it brings them food and reproduction. But while the females hunt, they guard the cubs with the old lionesses and then join the feast.
Do Lions Fight to the Death?
At the time of reproduction, he makes his law because it is he who chooses his partner and not the opposite. Male lions age very quickly and their rule over the same pride is not immutable, so fights can break out within the pride to determine who will be dominant until others come to challenge him. It is said that the courage of a lion can be judged by the number of scars on his face, although fights are generally rare.
They prefer to give up to the one who seems to be the strongest, and this after multiple intimidation maneuvers: roaring, mimics, snorts... Sometimes young males from outside the group come to challenge the dominant male. They are often young and vigorous males looking for a troop. The loser must leave the troop.
Why do Lions Kill Cubs?
The renewal of the leader would occur on average every 2-3 years. The newcomers take possession of the group with its females and older cubs, but they immediately kill the younger ones. This way the females go into estrus and can mate earlier. Pubescent cubs are expelled so that they do not become competitors.
Once the old male is expelled, the lack of food often associated with the disease leaves him with a life expectancy of one or two years because he has a lot of trouble hunting alone.
The females are the preponderant elements of the troop which rests almost entirely on their shoulders.
A lioness generally stays all her life within the same troop so all the females are related: sisters, nieces, cousins... There has never been a single case where a non-related female joined a pride. Thus when lionesses who lived separately from the pride join the pride as full members, they are in fact females who were excluded at puberty but who had never left the territory where they were raised.
A female that leaves the territory will never be allowed to return.
They are responsible for the daily life of the group: they hunt together or alone, they take care of the education of the young, and sometimes, depending on the size of the group and of the territory, they defend part of it.
Female Lion Pride Hierarchy
There is a hierarchy within the females: the oldest have the ascendancy over the youngest but it has been noticed that when the number of young is high, it is the opposite that occurs. In principle, all females hunt but the older, less combative ones stay behind to keep the cubs with the males.
Thus a lioness even "useless" to the group remains there until the end of her life except if her weakness prevents her from following the group in its movements. Then she will stay alone and let herself die of hunger.
The education of the young is done essentially by the game. Moreover, there is a unique phenomenon among lions which is that a cub can be fed by its aunt or a nursing cousin indifferently regardless of the other cubs if its mother dies.
Nevertheless, lionesses select the cubs to which they give their milk: they accept cubs of the same size or smaller than their own cubs. And they have a preference for those that are more closely related to them.
The cubs, on the other hand, will serve themselves indifferently to one or the other until they are discharged. Packer and Pusey found that lionesses actually accepted other cubs more out of fatigue or indifference than out of any real generosity.
When a new male takes the lead of the troop, the females often try to shelter their young which divides the group. But if the cubs are killed, they become receptive again a few days later. Nevertheless, the first cubs are born more than 6 months after the first mating.
Advantages of Lions Living in a Group
The social lifestyle of lions provides many advantages:
- The sharing of food and thus the near certainty of eating the amount required for survival even for a bad hunter. In the same way, pregnant females that have difficulty moving at the end of their gestation period can take advantage of the preys caught by the members of their group.
- A better defense of the territory and a larger territory.
- A better protection of the young.
- The possibility of adoption by another mother when one of them dies. Since the females are all related females, they share the same genetic heritage. The young that are born carry 50% of this genetic heritage. So when a female helps a cub that is not her own, she is helping to preserve the genes that they have in common. This is what we call kin selection. In addition, females have another interest in the defense of cubs because they will one day be hunters in the service of the pride or males who will guard the territory. This adoption allows for the preservation of the species and the development of social behavior through the contact with other females and other young. The adoption can be either spontaneous and fast when the mother dies in the first days following her return in the troop or late in the presence of the mother. On the other hand, if she did not return to the group before her death, the young are condemned to die in their hiding place.
- Living in a band on a territory with known fauna and topography provides a stable and protective environment that decreases mortality and increases the survival of the young.
To appreciate all the benefits of group living, it is sufficient to note that a nomadic lion lives shorter, as a rule, than a lion in a group. This is due to the fact that it is more difficult for them to find food, because they have to travel long distances to do so and therefore expend a lot of energy with the risk of making hostile encounters. For females, Bertram observed that they had fewer cubs and that those cubs had a much lower chance of survival than cubs born in groups
Studies in the Serengeti and N'Gorongoro have shown that the minimum troop size should be 3: 1 female and her 2 cubs.
Large groups divide into sub-groups for the defense of larger territories and each female may find another related female with whom to hunt or guard cubs or share a meal.