Lion Mane - Myths, History and Seduction

Lion's Mane -

Lion Mane - Myths, History and Seduction

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Come on, admit it, you've asked yourself that question at least once in your life. But after all, it's true: why do lions have manes and what can they use them for? And also: why don't lionesses wear manes? Some call this injustice, but it is true that in the king of animals it is often the males who have the most spectacular physical attributes. This is the case of the lion who has an incredible mane while the lioness has none. The reason is simple: it's simply a dredging technique 🦁.

Why do lions have manes?

Ah, lions, those kings of the savannah who proudly wear a set of hair longer than the rest of the body, from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the neck. This attribute is called mane!  Depending on the feline that wears it, the mane will be more or less thick, shorter, longer, light or dark... All this is actually decided by genetics, the maturity of the animal or simply its testosterone production. The more abundant and dark-coloured the lion's mane is, the healthier the feline is! The mane is therefore an element of sexual dimorphism, a physical characteristic that makes it possible to distinguish between the male and female of the same animal species.

Male lion with mane.

Male lion with mane.

A mane to seduce females.

The lion's mane is an excellent asset to conquer the hearts of ladies. Indeed, the more flamboyant and dense mane is, more the females will be attracted to him and will choose him among the other males to reproduce. His offspring is then assured.

When it comes to mating, competition between lions is hard. Lions have multiple sexual partners, but they can only protect one female at a time from other males. Indeed, lions are somewhat jealous: they have the right to go elsewhere while females in heat must be satisfied with only one male during the breeding season. Those that are not watched are therefore free to choose other partners.

A mane as a shield.

So what is the other use of the lion's mane? It's actually... protection! Indeed, the big cats of Africa fight each other with claws and fangs and naturally target the sensitive parts of the anatomy: the neck, the throat. This pile of long hair thus allows the lion to protect itself from its rivals' attacks. The mane is not only an undeniable asset to seduce lionesses, but it also allows the lion to protect itself from the blows of its opponent during a fight. Indeed, the head and neck of the animal are thus protected from the possible bites and scratches of a rival ⚔️. Note that it is the hormones produced by the testicles that determine the quality of a lion's mane. The more hormones there are, the more mane there is. But it is only from the age of 2 years that a lion's mane will start to grow, when it reaches sexual maturity.

But in this case, why don't lionesses wear them?

Quite simply because females rarely fight each other, their role is to hunt (for this lazy male!) and raise cubs. Conversely, the male's role is to reproduce and thus to supplant his rivals. The mane is thus essential to him to assert himself compared to the other big males...

Manes's difference between male and female lions.

Manes's difference between male and female lions.

A bulky mane for hunting.

Despite all its advantages, the mane also has some disadvantages, especially for hunting. A lion with an exceptional mane will be much more visible to its prey. The effect of surprise is not guaranteed. Furthermore, the mane can be somewhat cumbersome when hunting because of its ability to catch all the grasses that pass by and hinder the lion's movements. For all these reasons, it is usually the lionesses who have the heavy task of hunting to feed the rest of the group. But lions hunts too !

Dark and long Mane = Healthy Lion.

Indeed! It is the lions that carry this set of hair, longer than the rest of the body, which decorate the neck of certain mammals, including the lion, from the top of the forehead to the top of the back. Its presence or its absence, its colour, its size are linked to several parameters: genetics, sexual maturity or testosterone production. The more abundant it is, the darker it is, the healthier the lion 🦁.

But then why do lions have a mane to protect themselves, and not tigers?

Well, because this mane is not especially practical for the rest of the activities. The difference between a lion and a tiger (and most felines) is that the "king of the animals" only hunts very little. It is the lioness who hunts for him. And besides, lionesses hunt in groups.

The role of the male is to reproduce, therefore to supplant his rivals, then to protect his territory and his clan. But most of all, he fights against other lions. Hence the magnificent paraphernalia around his neck: the mane! While tigers and tigresses hunt regardless of their sex and therefore do not need it.

Young lion male.

Young lion male.

Lion's Mane History.

The lion, male it should be noted, is known for its mane. As for the lioness, she doesn't have one. The growth of the mane is linked to the production of testosterone in a lion, which explains why females do not have any, and neither do castrated males. On the other hand, a healthy male will have more mane than a sick lion. Female lions therefore tend to prefer males to large manes, especially if the mane is brown or black, a sign of a male in the prime of life. The mane will indeed tend to become darker with age.

However, there are lions that do not have a mane. They are mainly found in Senegal and Tsavo, Tanzania. The first white lion seen in Timbavati (South Africa) was also a male without mane. This lack of mane may be due to the health of the lion. A sick or weak lion will have less mane or no mane at all. In lion populations affected by inbreeding, some males also lack mane, which is associated with reduced fertility.

Young lion male.

Lionesses with manes.

The opposite is also true. There are lionesses with mane! It is true that a number of lionesses have favourites, but this is not a mane. But sometimes lionesses do have a real mane. However, these cases are rare. Several maned lionesses have been seen in recent years at Mombo in the Okavango Delta. They are larger than ordinary lionesses and, like adolescent males, have short blond to light brown manes. The most probable hypothesis is that the appearance of this mane is linked to the lioness stopping the production of female hormones, as is the case of Vinkel, a white lioness from the Philadelphia Zoo (USA), who developed a mane after menopause 🧬.

African lion with wonderful mane.

African lion with wonderful mane.

In Botswana, some lionesses wear the mane.

Researchers have been able to observe a very rare phenomenon: lionesses wearing the mane and demonstrating male behaviour. In a population of lions (Panthera leo melanochaita) living in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, males are not the only ones with beautiful manes. Indeed, five females also have this attribute. Normally, the sexual dimorphism of this species makes it possible to recognize a lion male from a female for sure. But in this case, only the size of these felines allows to make the difference because the lionesses remain smaller than the males. Moreover, they also show typical lion behaviour such as regular roars normally reserved for males to attract females or defend their territory. A lioness observed at greater length by researchers and named SaF05 demonstrated all the behaviours that are typical of males. She was observed several times attempting to mate with other females, although she also demonstrated heterosexual behaviour, which was also demonstrated by three other females. Of the five maned lionesses, SaF05 used the vocalizations that most closely resembled those of the males. Furthermore, according to the researchers, this lioness marks her territory just like the males.

The development of the lion mane is subject to the action of several factors such as the animal's nutrition, genetics, environmental temperature or hormonal factors. According to the results of these observations published in late August 2016 in the African Journal of Ecology, in these lionesses, the mane would be the result of too high a level of testosterone in the body. This would also lead to their sterility.

Ben - Lion Republic writer.


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