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Physical Characteristics

The lion is the second largest felid, weighing up to 425 pounds, males being slightly larger then the females. Both have a rounded head and are powerfully built and have a uniformly colored coat. The males have a mane which begins to grow at the age of two which grows into long, thick hair by the age of five. The purpose of the mane is thought to make the lion look stronger and more fearsome, which seemingly has worked as the lion has always been a symbol of royalty and strength. The earthshaking roar of a lion can be heard up to five miles away, the loudest vocal sound created by any felid.

Habitat and Lion Pride

The lion is found in parts of Africa south of the Sahara desert. Lions are the most social of all the felids, and live in organized groups called prides which can hold four to forty members. The pride is made up of related lionesses and their cubs and one to six males which have fought their way into the pride. If a lion is killed by another lion trying to join the pride, the previous male's cubs will be killed to give way for the new dominate lion's offspring. When a female comes to realize her cubs are gone, she goes into estrus and mates with the new dominate male. The pride is very social, and they often lick and rub heads with each other. The males are the protectors of the pride, and the females are the hunters and take care of the cubs.

Hunting and Feeding

Lions generally preys on medium size animals such as zebras, gazelle, and wildebeest, but are only successful five out of twenty attemps. During the chase for its prey, lions can run up to 35 mph, but only for short distances. The lioness will use her weight and paws to knock its quarry down, then secures its meal with a bite in the throat or neck, generally suffocating its victim. If the lioness can not catch its prey in the first few hundred meters, she will give up and choose another. Scavenging makes up 10-15% of the lions food source. They listen for vultures and hyenas who are scavengers, and go to the scene to see what they can take for themselves.

Feeding is a dangerous time in the pride. The stronger eat first, and the weaker eat last. The males will eat until satisfied, then the females will eat what is left, and if there is still something left over, the cubs will get a bite to eat. The leading cause of death in lion cubs is starvation. During feeding, fighting is very common, and can be fatal. To avoid these confrontations, the weaker of the two fighting may lie on its back (like a dog might when its owner is yelling at it), and the stronger lion will walk away with the weaker lion's pride.

Reproduction and Cubs

Females go into season by the age of three, and have cubs about every two years. Males detect when the female is entering estrous by smelling the females urine. Before mating, the lion will roll on her back and make various other movements accompanied by a low moan. When she has gotten the male's attention, she crouches into the mating position, and copulation occurs for five to twenty seconds. They may continue this every half hour for up to a week. After a gestation period of 105 days, two to four cubs are born blind and helpless in a shelter away from the pride. After a little over a month, the cubs are introduced to the pride. Before they reach the age of three to four months, the cubs depend on not only their mother's milk but any other nursing lionesses in the pride. They begin to join their mother in hunts after about three to four months, and begin to kill on their own after about two years.

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