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Why do lions have manes?

When it comes to curious animals, the lion is perhaps the king. We all know that lions have manes and that these are a symbol of their power and dominance, but have you ever wondered why lions have manes?

In The Wild Lion we have explored many of the curiosities of lions, but today we want to tell you that lions are not the only ones, there are lionesses with mane too! Join us to discover the reason why lions (and some lionesses) have manes.

lion rings collection

Why does a Lion have a Mane?

The mane is an emblematic attribute of lions, it characterizes and identifies them. When we are kids, these animals are a perfect example to distinguish which are females and which are males, however, the mane is deceiving...

You will be surprised to know that there are lionesses with mane and lions without it. Just as you read it, some are born with it and others aren't. Later we will delve into the benefits and disadvantages that these can have.

lion with girl


Which Animal have Mane?

Now, it may sound strange, but lions belong to the genus Panthera (in fact, they are known as Panthera leo), being the only species, among felids or felines, that has a mane.

So why do lions have manes, if it doesn't seem to be an evolutionary advantage that holds among felines? Well, just as zebras have stripes, lions possess their abundant manes as a matter of survival and adaptation.

lioness head


Lion without Mane

Let's take a moment and go back to their origin: the lion lineage originated in East Africa, some two million years ago. Later, this species spread throughout Asia, much of Europe and the Americas. However, and due to different representations in cave paintings, it is suspected that the lions existing in Europe and America lacked a mane.

lion with black mane


The origin of manes

One of the curious facts on this subject is that some researchers think that the manes of lions appeared for the first time in African populations about 200,000 years ago. They also believe that the characteristic mane gradually spread to most of the current specimens. Now, why did this change occur... What benefits can it have?

african lion with mane


Why do Lions have Manes?

Initially, it was believed that manes served as protection and that, in fact, this defensive role may have been the reason why this trait developed. It was speculated that, during the early evolutionary stage, males might have attacked by directly seeking the neck. This would have implied that individuals with manes were more difficult to attack and, therefore, more favored by natural selection.

maned lion


How do Lions Fight?

Although this hypothesis seemed quite sound, field biologists have now observed that, when male lions fought each other, they rarely targeted - especially intentionally - the mane region. Instead, the lions regularly attacked from the rear, targeting the front and rear of the body.

According to some experts, this behavior ruled out that lions had manes because it was a defense mechanism. This, in turn, leads to a new question: if the mane is not designed for protection, what is its purpose?

lion with scar


Why do male lions have manes?

Of course, their presence is not because of climatic conditions, for in the sweltering heat of some African countries, hair around the face cannot be cooling. In addition, this clump of hair is home to a host of parasites. And, as if that weren't enough, the mane also makes the lion stand out from its surroundings, making it more easily detectable to potential prey.

This last factor is the answer to why most lionesses do not have manes, as they are more inconspicuous and have higher hunting rates. Well goes one of the best known lion phrases; "the lion is the mightiest of animals until the lioness wakes up."

lion and lioness


Why do Lions have Fur?

Despite all these negative aspects associated with the lion's mane, the question is: Where is the advantage of this lush fur? If over the centuries this trait has been maintained there must be a key reason. It is said that lions have a mane because it serves a clear purpose, knotted to their instinct; to attract females.

This is to facilitate reproduction and, therefore, the survival of the species. This makes it clear that ensuring reproduction is an outstanding advantage over the adversities that a lion's mane can bring. So, the answer to why lions have manes is purely biological and reproductive.

lion mane in the air


Lion Dark Mane

The attraction of females to the mane also plays a role, as the health and fighting ability of lions is manifested through their mane. The longer and darker the mane, the stronger, healthier and more fertile the male is. These characteristics signal to the female that her potential offspring will be better adapted to survive.

Similarly, it takes some hardy genes and a very healthy constitution for a male lion to live long enough to grow a substantial mane. That is, a long-lived, strong male will sport a luxuriant mane, which means he is genetically more prepared to face obstacles such as disease and fights with other lions.

lion with black mane


Lions with Black Manes

In research published in 2002, it was revealed that males with darker and longer manes were mature, better nourished, in good health and better fighters. Since females rely on males to protect their cubs and inevitably seek out the best candidate for breeding, it makes sense that they would prefer males with prominent manes and thus the evolutionary trait of the mane has been maintained.

Lion Mane Painting


Can Lionesses have Manes?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, lionesses also have manes, but, unlike males, they have them due to a genetic alteration. This is not a current fact, for a long time there was talk of imposing lionesses, animals that stood out for their vitality and strength that had received the gift of having a mane. Many of them had been observed in the Okavango River delta in Botswana.

3 lionesses

Lionesses with Manes

lion and lioness

Images of maned lionesses were all over the internet, but they were never studied in detail until a few years ago... It was in 2014 when the behavior of maned lionesses began to be studied. Although the real reason for the existence of maned lionesses is still unknown, there are some hypotheses about it.

The most supported one is that these lionesses apparently possess high levels of testosterone, which allows for the growth of fur. It is believed that the presence of testosterone in their bodies is due to some anomaly during gestation, but nothing else has been explored...

We hope this article has solved your question as to why lions have manes. And, in case you want to continue reading about the extraordinary king of animals, we invite you to learn about some of the reasons why lions are endangered.

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