5 ways lions deal with heat

Lion with small mane seeking shelter in sparse shade while panting
Lion with smallish, sparse mane to keep cooler seeking shelter in sparse shade while panting. Image in public domain.
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How do lions keep cool? I can think of the following five reasons but please add yours if possible:

  1. Perhaps the most obvious and effective method is that lions appear to be primarily nocturnal. Although there is no hard and fast rule as to when they are active. There are several factors as to why lions are nocturnal one of which is that during hunting when they are the most active and therefore generating internal heat, they want to be in the coolest possible environment which is at night. Although activity patterns depend upon the season and ambient temperatures and whether lions are hunted or disturbed by people. The last point is a reference to the fact that they will be active at night to avoid being hunted by people.
  2. The next most obvious step that lions can take to keep cool is to stay in the shade of a tree during the hottest time of the day. They then take a nap and it’s worth noting that lions are the least active of all the cat species. Two prides were observed in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and they were both inactive for an average of about 19 hours per day.
  3. Humans cool themselves by sweating but lions don’t have sweat glands except on their paws which is the same as for domestic cats (and on the lips, chin and on the skin that surrounds the anus). They therefore cool themselves by panting like dogs. Panting cools down a cat through the physical properties of the latent heat of evaporation. The moisture in the mouth evaporates and in doing so it takes heat from the air which means the air is cooler which in turn means that the dog, domestic cat or lion becomes cooler albeit slightly.
  4. Researchers also found that lions adapt to hotter climates by growing a mane that is shorter and thinner. Captive lions living in the relatively hotter southern climates of the USA apparently have smaller and less dense manes than those in northern areas. But this will be an evolutionary pattern and I’m not sure how well defined it is. The mane of male lions helps to attract females. In fact, if they are darker, they also attract females more effectively. A study in America on zoo lions found that those living in colder ambient temperatures grew longer and thicker manes compared to those in colder climates. The lions in hotter ambient temperatures had manes that were up to 50% of the length and density of zoo lion’s manes in colder climates. Obviously, dense manes help to retain heat which goes against keeping cool. They examined 19 lions and 17 zoos across the United States.
  5. Drinking water is not a great option for a lion in order to cool down although lions drink water every day when it is available, they seem able to manage without drinking at all if water is scarce or unavailable. They get their water from the fluids in prey animals. I guess, though, that drinking water is one way to help keep a little cooler when it is possible.
The superb mane of a lion is about appearance and protection
The superb mane of a lion is about appearance and protection

Below are some more pages on lions.

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