Why do lions have manes?

This iconic hairdo is the key to lion love

Lions express sexual dimorphism, which is the term we use when males and females of the same species look different. The male lions have different physical features to the females, and the most iconic of these is the majestic mane. It’s thought that the male’s mane is related to testosterone levels, which in turn is an outward expression to females of dominance and strength. So when the lionesses are searching for a mate, a luxurious mane equals a hot date.

Surprisingly, it’s not the length of the mane that attracts lionesses; it’s the colour. Studies have shown that a darker mane is found in males with higher testosterone, and there’s actually no correlation between testosterone levels and mane length. Scientists think that a shorter mane may be indicative of a recently injured or weakened lion, which is less attractive to females.

Manes may have extra uses too. They make the lions look larger and more intimidating to challengers and may also protect against injury. Interestingly, lionesses are also capable of growing manes. This has been observed in the wild where testosterone levels increase as lionesses get older.


Photo: Anita Ritenour/flickr