No animal is more representative of the African Savanna than the lion. Its males have lustrous, shaggy hairs around their necks. What is the reason lions have hair?

These gorgeous braids have been crafted to impress lions. They are both potential mates and potential rivals Bruce Patterson, a former mammal researcher from the Chicago Field Museum, told Live Science. The male Lions ( Panthera Leo) have big heads with big necks. Their manes emphasize the features of these animals, Patterson said.

Some manes are more attractive than others. One research study from 2002 studying the sexual preferences, temperature, and various lion manes revealed that hair with darker colors appeared to be more appealing to females. This was also associated with higher nutrition and testosterone levels. Additionally, male lions with longer hair seemed more intimidating to males, according to the study’s authors.

“It’s an intimidation to rival males, who see a giant haystack moving towards them and get out of Dodge,” Patterson stated.

Some male lions don’t have manes because shaggy, dark hair can also bring negatives.

The size and the shape are driven by heat.

Despite the advantages of attracting other lions to your camp, having a long mane wearing a hefty scarf around your neck during the summer, sunlight isn’t the best idea — and a study from 2002 suggested that men with hair are hotter than females who were not. A high body temperature can lead to difficulties in the production of sperm, and the researchers point out that males with dark hair tend to have sperm with more abnormal characteristics.

This heat issue could be why some populations of lions have tiny manes or even no hair. In places like those of the Serengeti as well as the Ngorongoro Crater of northern Tanzania — which lie hundreds of meters above sea levels with temperatures that regularly fall below 60°F (16 degrees Celsius), Male lions typically have large manes with fuzzy hair.

However, the Kenyan Tsavo East National Park, located closer to sea level, and hotter male lions sport tiny, almost inexistent manes. Patterson said that a lion with vast hair would not be able to move a long distance during the day or walk away from the water. This puts them “at a disadvantage, relative to a lion that doesn’t have a big blanket over its shoulders,” Patterson stated.

It also applies to animals that live outside of their natural habitats. Patterson’s research studies found that, in the zoo lions of North America, individuals in warmer climates had more dense, thicker manes.

Female lions sporting manes

Female lions also can grow manes, but this is rare. In 2016 researchers revealed that five lionesses were growing hairs in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The lionesses showed typical masculine behavior, like tying other females.

In 2018, Oklahoma City Zoo announced that a lioness aged 18 named Bridget had mysteriously sprouted the appearance of a “mini-mane.” Tests on her blood afterward confirmed an uninvolved tumor caused increased levels of androstenedione, a hormone that can cause male characteristics.

In 2020 a lioness who was old age at the Topeka Zoo in Kansas began growing a mane following the death of the only male member of the pride died. Zookeepers at the time said it was believed to be a “random event” that wasn’t tied to evolution or competition.


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