Magnificent African Lion - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania -- Photo by wwarby
Comprehensive facts about the lion mane are listed here. The mane of the lion is perhaps the best known single piece of wild animal anatomy other than a tiger's stripes. It is a magnificent and interesting object that varies from lion to lion and place to place.
- The lion's mane is unique among the cat family1.
- The mane makes the lion look more impressive. It is a very distinct visual signal, which is why we as humans remember it so well. It can be seen from far off. With a mane, the lion looks intimidating2. This seems to be the primary function.
- A secondary function of the mane may be to help protect the lion's neck region in a fight. The dense fur protects against bites and blows3.
- Manes come in a range of sizes and normally become thicker and longer as the lion becomes older4|5. Development of the mane continues beyond sexual maturity6. It is not clear that testosterone levels affect lion mane density. But this is contradicted by the Wikipedia author who says that castrated male lions have very small manes. Inbreeding (in captivity and in the wild) results in poor fertility and poor manes (see also Inbreeding of Wildcats)
- The darker and fuller the mane the healthier the lion7.
- Another factor dictating the size and density of a lion mane is climate. Climate varies with height above sea level as well as by region on the African continent. Lions living at the equator in East Africa have denser and bigger manes when living at cooler, higher elevations8. Lions living in warmer lower lying areas develop their mane later in life with slower mane growth. The Serengeti is at a higher elevation so the lions of the Serengeti develop a mane faster than in Tsavo9. Lions with exceptional manes (see top of chart, right) come from the mountain plateaus10.
- The so called "maneless lions" of Tsavo (a region of Kenya located at the crossing of the Uganda Railway over the Tsavo River, where there are two national parks) do, in fact, develop manes.
- The greatest variation in mane density (see chart) and size exists in the equatorial East Africa11.
- It is likely that lions can recognise each other from their manes.
- The rate of growth of the lion mane varies between individual lions. Some 4 year old lions have a thick mane while others have a small one12.
- The mane's colour varies from yellow, reddish brown and brown and it is thought to darken with age13.
- The mane usually starts to grow at about 3.5 years of age14.
- Asiatic lions (those now restricted to the Gir Forest National Park in north west India - lion habitat) have smaller (and thinner) manes than African lions15.
- Female lions prefer males with big manes16.
- It is said that mane length signals fighting success17.
- Darker maned lions are sexually active for longer and their offspring survive for longer18.
- It is possible that early European lions were maneless (indicated by cave paintings - see also History of the Big Cats)
- Lionesses can have ruffs (a kind of vestigial lion mane)
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