Episode 127 – Lion: The Sultan of the Savannah

“…and today we’re talking about the sultan of the Savannah, the prince of the pride, the king of the jungle. But more on that later.”

Cats are a solitary bunch. They prefer quiet naps in trees or in the sunbeam cast in an otherwise vacated living room. The loner lifestyle is just easier for felines that perfect hunting and don’t want to share their kills. But one, and only one cat prefers to live and hunt as a team. Together, these pantheras can dominate the best areas of the Savannah, and all it takes is a little social interaction. But cooperation in a demanding environment is easier said than done in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • I probably don’t have to explain what a lion looks like to you but let’s do this!
  • Lions are massive cats with short, tan fur, a short neck, round ears, and a long tail with a hairy tuft at the end.
  • Males have a characteristic large mane of long hair that can extend all the way to the middle of its back.
    • The darker the mane, older the lion and the more testosterone the lion has.
  • Females are called lionesses and don’t have the mane.
    • Most animals don’t have different names for males and females. Mostly ungulates like deer and cattle.
  • Lions also have large paws equipped with retractable claws for gripping onto prey.
  • Sometimes, lions can have a rare genetic condition called leucism that causes their fur to lose pigmentation and turn white. White lions aren’t albinos.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro from some rando!

Male size

  • Males can be up to 1.5 times the size of females.
  • Males in southern Africa are the largest at 208 cm (82 in, close to 7 feet) not including the tail.
  • 82 inches
  • How many lions go into the length of the Detroit Lion’s single season passing record?
  • QB Matthew Stafford has multiple Detroit Lions records, including single season passing, which he achieved in 2011. 
  • 2,211 lions. Stafford threw for 5,038 yards. 

Male Weight

  • 225 kg (496 lb)
  • How many lions go into the weight of the Lion, a steam locomotive built in 1846?
  • Hint: The locomotive was built for logging and used on the Machiasport Railroad of eastern Maine. It ran until 1890. Today it’s displayed at the Maine State Museum. 
  • 36 lions. The locomotive is 9 tons.


  • They used to live all over the place in ancient times. The Bible talks about them being in the Middle East quite a bit. They also used to live in North America and all the way to eastern Russia. 
  • Now, almost all lions live in sub-Saharan Africa with a small population living in western India


  • Lions are far from cowardly. In fact, they’re considered generalist hypercarnivores. They’re huge apex and keystone predators that hunt in packs, so there’s pretty much nothing they can’t bring down. 
  • They usually eat ungulates like antelope, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffes. Smaller mammals are too small to be worth the effort and larger animals like elephants, rhinos, and hippos are often to dangerous. But they can definitely make a meal of any of these.
  • A group of lionesses will try and ambush prey in one fell swoop. You would think that they could outrun their prey, but you have to read in between the lions. They can’t run for very long, so most animals can outrun them if they’re not caught in the first few seconds.
    • The reason is because their hearts are proportionally smaller to their bodies than other animals. The reason King Richard the Lionheart got his name is because he had grinch syndrome.
  • Males hunt too, but only if they don’t have a pride. They usually hunt solo.
  • Lions often also live off of the scavenged kills from spotted hyenas

Fast Facts

  • They live up to 20 years in captivity
  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away
  • The Roman emperor Commodus once killed 100 lions in a single day.

Ending: So throw back your mane, let out a roar, and maintain a series of complicated social relationships like the lion here in LDT.

Major Fact: Gregarious Kitties

Lions are the only cats on earth that we know form organized social groups.

  • Which means a bunch of cats around a dumpster doesn’t count.
  • Lion groups are called a pride, and they are made up of a male, several females, and their cubs. 
  • Male lions form coalitions that roam the wilds looking for territory and a pride to take over. 
  • In some cases, male lions will allow a second, submissive male to be in the pride. 
  • This may be the dominant lion’s brother. In one example I saw, two brothers defeated a dominant lion and took over his pride.
  • Both lions lived in pride but only one was dominant.

There’s also a dominant female, who often leads hunts.

  • Videos I watched said it was her responsibility to hunt and provide food, but I have know idea what the lion concept of responsibility is or how we know it.
  • All females mate with the dominant male but dominant lions usually defend the center of the pride’s territory and enjoy the most protection.
  • Low ranking lions may stick to the outskirts of a territory.
  • All adult lion’s share responsibilities and female lions will even nurse eachother’s young. 

Lion social groups are largely based on territory.

  • Ideal territory will have access to water and prey species.
  • The best territories are where rivers intersect, because it funnels prey to an enclosed area.
  • Lions need to defend territory from rival males, other predators, and other lion prides.
  • If two lion prides have overlapping territory, there may be a fight over it where one pride is driven out. 
  • If a male lion takes over a territory and a pride, he will kill the cubs that belong to the previous dominant male.
  • Lion roars can be heard from 3 miles, and lions roar as a territorial display.
  • Nearby prides can hear the roars and discern how many lions are roaring. 
  • If they’re outnumbered, they won’t challenge the pride. 

However, male lions are good fathers to their own cubs.

  • Their job is to defend the pride and they usually stay with cubs while females hunt. 
  • Cubs often play with their fathers while they’re trying to sleep and it’s adorable.

Females are aggressive when they have young cubs and a group of females may attack a male that invades their territory.

  • One BBC video shows aggressive females mistaking one of their own male pride-mates for an intruder and attacking him before they realize it and back off.

Pride size walks the razors edge between food availability and ability to defend the territory.

  • Large prides may reach numbers of up to 30 lions.
  • Big prides are capable of defending the best territories and they usually have access to the best food sources.
  • However, large prides need the best food sources to sustain their numbers.
  • If a pride gets too large for their territory, individuals might be driven out, especially if they can’t perform their tasks well enough.