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Lions Sexuality: what you need to know

Several times a year, lions and lionesses mate in a veritable sexual marathon. This act, made possible by the consent of the female, will allow the young lions to have their own clan and their own territory. 

Welcome to The Wild Lion young feline, today we will discuss about how lions mate. 🦁

Lions Mating

A pair of lions ready to mate is easily recognized by the fact that they isolate themselves and stand close to each other. According to Bertram (Pride of lions), this isolation would not be voluntary but due to the fact that the other members of the pride left them to their preoccupations without waiting for them when they moved.

It happens that another male is not far from the couple, "waiting" for his turn. Indeed, rivalries are rare and the first male who mates with a female remains the owner until the female gets tired of him. The dividing line seems to be between 5 and 10 meters.

In addition, lionesses do not seem to have established preferences, so they may mate with all males in the pride as well as accept a male from outside the pride. Similarly, males may mate with females outside the pride.

lion family

How do Lions Mate?

When she is receptive, the female attracts the male by urinating, releasing sexual pheromones that they locate through the vomeronasal organ by performing the flehmen and that instruct the males of her condition.

She also emits characteristic sounds. The male follows the female during several days, in general about eight, and while waiting that she is completely receptive, he marks the ground too. Then he alternates approaches and rubbing. They caress each other, sniff each other, "kiss" nose to nose and cheek to cheek.

lions mating

At the beginning, the female whispers, hits him and sniffs. To impress his partner and competing males, the male puffs up his mane, struts and claws his way around.

If the male is a little slow to react, it is the female who leads the game of seduction by alternating caresses and waiting positions. The female introduces herself to the male, rolls on the ground, gets up and trots for 50 meters before starting her serenade again.

lion king canvas painting

This ballet lasts 30 minutes before she agrees to be mated. If females give off a characteristic odor during heat which attracts the male and signals the moment of estrus offering the best chance of success for mating, the male is not left out of the attraction of the female.

By placing himself in contact or a few meters away in a play position, turning in a circle, lying with his tail on the side, he releases sexual pheromones which play a major role in attracting the female to him and not to another, and in the occurrence of the mating.


lions mating

How long do Lions Mate?

During estrus, the male covers the female about 100 times a day for 3 days. These sequences last from 1 to 5 minutes and are renewed every 15-20 minutes.

During these 3 days, they remain without hunting or even eating. At the beginning of the mating, the male bites the nape of his partner's neck then releases her. At the end of the coitus, during the withdrawal, the female turns around to slap the male because of the pain caused by the withdrawal of the bristly penis.

Lion Ejaculation

Just before ejaculation, the male lets loose a plaintive meow that may serve to inhibit the female's aggression at the time of withdrawal.

During mounting, the male lies on top of the crouching female, his front legs remain extended, his hind legs are flexed. After mounting, they lie side by side, she on her flank or back and he with his front in a sphinx and his back extended.

Do Lions mate for Life?

Because of the synchronization of heat, a female can have several partners but this is also true for males who can mount several females.

On the other hand, the change of partner never occurs during the same day. According to Beach, quoted by Klechman, the incitement of the male by the female is a proprioceptive behavior. He thus defines 2 concepts of female sexual behavior: attractiveness and receptivity.

Attractiveness corresponds to the female's stimuli for the male as a potential partner. Receptivity is the female's response to the male's stimuli to facilitate mating.

Lion Homosexuality

Homosexual behavior exists even if it is very rare. Schaller observed it 3 times and it always concerned males between them. The behavior, which precedes the mating, is not very different from the one that concerns a female.

lion homosexuality

Lions Gestation

During gestation, the embryonic egg stimulates the production of an early gestation factor. Its presence confirms fertilization and its disappearance indicates embryonic or fetal loss.

The corpus luteum is maintained by LH, FSH, Prolactin, Chorionic hormone and PMSG. During gestation, both estrogen and progesterone are present.

pregnant lion

Lions Gestation Period

Gestation lasts from 102 to 113 days, the abdomen becomes rounder and larger, the udders swell and fill with milk. Just before delivery, the abdominal strap loosens, the sacro-sciatic ligament relaxes and the vulva increases in size.

The female has more difficulty moving around, especially when hunting, which is why it is important to belong to a social group. The quantity of food ingested increases as well as the aggressiveness towards its companions and other individuals.

How do Lions give Birth?

Parturition is triggered by a fetal signal: ACTH, which turns into cortisol, causes a decrease in progesterone and an increase in estrogen. The latter stimulates the prostaglandin PgF2α leading to the synthesis of oxytocin responsible for uterine contractions.

The lioness isolates herself from the group a few days before giving birth and finds refuge in tree trunks, tall grass, branches, a dry river bed or rocks. This isolation is necessary for the proper conduct of the calving, which usually takes place at night. According to Fraser, quoted by Parez, in 1968, the adrenalin discharges during the day inhibit the oxytocin necessary for the birth.

lioness and cubs

In addition, the temperature is often too high during the day to allow a birth in the best possible conditions. When the contractions become stronger, the allantoic and amniotic pouches are eliminated. Often the female pulls the cub with her teeth to help it out. Between each baby, there is a variable time that allows the young mother time to take care of the newborn.

The cord is cut between the teeth and the female consumes the appendices: placenta and fetal waters. This allows the establishment of the first mother-calf bond and avoids attracting predators by the smell of these appendices. Then, the mother gently licks the cub to impregnate it with her scent and clean it. By marking him in this way, she makes his arrival in the group safer because she avoids him being taken for an intruder.

How big are lion cubs?

The female gives birth to tiny, blind cubs whose weight is inferior or equal to 1% of her adult weight. Litter size is variable but ranges from 1 to 6 young. The average is 2 - 3 young. The sex ratio is 1 male to 0.9 female at birth.

This one passes in favor of the females at the adulthood taking into account the strong mortality already developed. All the females give birth at the same time: in a period of 2 - 3 months because who says synchronism of the heats says also synchronism of the couplings and thus of the births.

lion cubs

Lion Breastfeeding

It happens that some females give birth out of synchronization. This poses a real problem for the cubs because they do not benefit from the milk of other females and they are in competition at mealtime or playtime with older cubs, which increases their mortality rate.

Nevertheless, to limit the mortality rate, the mothers spend more time away from their pride, forced to hunt alone. Abandoned by the pride, and as the cubs require a lot of energy that she has difficulty in providing, the isolated mother often dies of hunger or fatigue. In this case, the cubs are also doomed because they are not recognized by the troop.

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