Do female lions have manes?

Female lions very rarely have manes due to relatively high levels of testosterone. Male lions can lose their mane for the opposite reason: low levels of testosterone, after, for example, being castrated.

Female lion with mane
Female lion with mane. Photo: Jessica Vitale


In Sept 2016, NewScientist reported that a team lead by Geoffrey Gilfillan from the University of Sussex had observed five lionesses with manes at the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango delta.

One of them, labelled SaFO5, was outstanding in this regard. She was larger than most females and although she mated with males in the pride she demonstrated male behaviour in:

  • increased scent marking;
  • increased roaring;
  • mounting other females;
  • bringing down a zebra (presumed single-handedly);
  • killing 2 cubs from a pride who stole the zebra.

These females were infertile as none became pregnant. This is known to be due to high levels of testosterone in females.

The scientists are investigating but believe that there is a genetic reason behind this group of maned females, called ‘masculinised females’.

Masculinised females may benefit the pride. The study started in March 2014 and lasted for two years. Gilfillan focused on SaF05.

On males, manes attract females who prefer the darker variants. The mane protects them in fights. Some males are maneless or have scanty manes (sparse fur). This is sometimes due to hot climates in Asia. In Africa the male Tsavo lions generally do not have manes. This may be due to the climate as having no mane improves heat loss and/or due to the thorny vegetation that snags in the mane.


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Do lions shed their mane?

After careful research I can only find two instances in which it is said that lions shed their mane but the information appears to be unsupported by good evidence and all the other instances of lions having thinner manes are due to environmental conditions such as the landscape in which they live and/or the ambient temperature.

Lion mane
Lion mane. Image by 🎄Merry Christmas 🎄 from Pixabay

Ousted from prides

Apparently, it was reported in a book published by National Geographic that male lions who were ousted from a pride by incoming lions suffered from a thinning mane in order to feminise them which made them less of a threat and accordingly which in turn allowed them to stick around the pride without causing disharmony. That sounds far-fetched to me and I don’t have any supporting evidence for it. There is nothing in the best books on the lion that I have which supports this information. For the time being I think we can ‘park’ it but nonetheless it is worth reporting for the sake of completeness.

Lost a battle

In the book Ghosts of Tsavo: Stalking the Mystery Lions of East Africa by Philip Caputo he writes, “Also, it [the mane] warns potential rivals that its owner hasn’t lost a battle in a long time, as male lions tend to shed their manes after a loss in combat. In short, a large mane is a sign of a lion’s ability to defend his pride, and a challenger who sees a pride leader adorned with one will think twice before going to war”. Once again there is nothing else that I can find which supports this hypothesis but this does not mean it is incorrect. As it is a fundamental part of lion life, you’d have thought that it would be mentioned in other reference books about the lion.

Shedding the mane

As mentioned, the best books I have e.g., Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist do not refer to male lions shedding their manes. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen but it looks like it doesn’t. It is about testosterone levels. If a lion is castrated the mane goes apparently.

Females growing manes

Lionesses sometimes grow manes if they have high levels of testosterone. They can even start humping. Five female lions in Botswana grew manes and started to roar a lot more than normal (females sometimes roar).

Environmental conditions

What appears far more certain is that environmental conditions have an influence over the density and fullness of a lion’s mane. The natural order of events for the African or Asiatic lion is that they develop as good a mane as they can and one that is as dark as possible because it is more impressive for females and to other species of animal. The silhouette of a male lion sporting a full dark mane sends a strong signal to others as to who is in charge. Also, the lion’s mane protects the animal from bites in combat.

But if the lion lives in a landscape where there are dense thickets of commiphora bushes, which blanket the Kenyan region of Tsavo, the advantages of a mane are outweighed by the disadvantages as it becomes entangled in the bushes or perhaps it is torn out by the thorns.

Logically, it also seems that ambient temperature has an impact on the impressiveness of the lion mane. But this is not a case of shedding hair in the mane to make it thinner but more about not growing a thicker, denser mane because of heat stress. It is thought that bushy manes evolved to attract females in cooler climates where heat stress is not an issue. This is more a matter of lions deliberately delaying mane growth to cope with the harsh temperatures of the Tsavo region of Kenya, for instance. Zoo lions in America tend to grow thicker manes when the ambient temperature allowed it.


My conclusion is that (1) the experts are still studying the lion mane after all these years, and there are still some unknowns but (2) there is no hard evidence at the moment (Jan 2021) to suggest that lions shed their manes. It’s more a case of modifying the natural process of growing as full a mane as possible because of environmental conditions. Like everything natural it’s a balancing act to enhance survival.


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What is the lion’s mane for?

The lion’s mane comes in a variety of sizes and density of color. It increase in length and thickness as a lion becomes older. It becomes darker. The mane serves two distinct purposes.


The first reason for the mane is that it makes an adult lion look impressive. It serves as a “conspicuous visual signal”. It can be seen from a long way off in open territory.

When a lion is strutting with his tail up and his mane flowing in the wind he presents an intimidating figure even from some way off. As the mane’s colouring and characteristics vary so much it is likely that lions recognise individuals by their manes.


Another function of the mane is to protect the head and neck region during fights. Schaller said:

“The dense mass of hair absorbs blows and harmlessly tangles claws in a part of the body toward which most social contact is directed; bites too may leave an opponent with a mouthful of hair rather than skin.”

These then are the functions of the mane as decided on by biologists.

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Lion’s Mane

by Michael

Magnificent African Lion - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania -- Photo by wwarby

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.
lion mane chart

  • 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)

From Lion Mane to Wild Cat Species


1 Wikipedia®

2 East African Mammals: An altas of evolution in Africa Kingdon J 1989

3 The Serengeti Lion - Schaller GB 1972

4 Wild Cats Of The World by the Sunquists page 287

5 Journal of Zoology and and

6 Journal of Zoology

7 Wikipedia®

8 Journal of Zoology and

9 Journal of Zoology and

10 Journal of Zoology

11 Journal of Zoology

12 The Serengeti Lion - Schaller GB 1972

13 Wild Cats Of The World by the Sunquists page 287

14 Wild Cats Of The World by the Sunquists page 287

15 The Lions of Asia - Pocock RI 1930

16 Trivedi, Bijal P. (22 August 2002). "Female Lions Prefer Dark-Maned Males, Study Finds". National Geographic News. National Geographic. LINK BROKEN 2012.

17 Wikipedia®

18 Wikipedia®

Comments for
Lion Mane

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Jul 18, 2011 STOP IT
by: Michael (Admin)

Comments for this post are now moderated. Spam comments will not be published. You are wasting your time.

Spam comments will be deleted and the spammer banned permanently.

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Nov 20, 2010 Informative.
by: Anonymous

Great information, I would seriously be scared if I saw one of these in the wilderness. I would hope that I have some sort of weapon or bear spray on me.

Nov 03, 2010 Some contradictions
by: Anonymous

In my opinion there are some controversies regarding the color of the mane of lions. On the one hand, the dark color indicates good health of the animal and its genetic predisposition to having a physical force. After all the great known fact about this lack, as an albino. But at the same time, we know many cases where male lions that have light-colored mane, in many ways superior to their compatriots with almost black color. Therefore, we should not get hung up on this characteristic in the preparation of a detailed resume of the animal.

Oct 26, 2010 Your wrong
by: Anonymous

and I also read that your WRONG.

Jan 19, 2010 what i read
by: kathy

I once read an article in National Geographic on Lions manes and it said that female lions prefer males with a dark mane. There also are maneless lions in Africa, I also read that in N.G.

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