Lions breed year-round and are usually polygynous. It is estimated that lions copulate 3,000 times for every cub that survives over one year. One estrus out of every 5 results in a litter and lions mate approximately 2.2 times per hour for the 4 day estrus period. The first male member of a pride that reaches a female in heat has the mating priority over her. Fighting between pride members over females does not normally occur.
Male lions are conspicuously large and showy because they have the opportunity to control the reproduction of many females when they rule over a pride. Males form coalitions with each other to increase their chances of pride takeover. The fierce competition among males and the social structure of a pride have led to infanticide by both males and females. Successful males that takeover a pride have about 2 years before another younger, stronger coalition will replace them. Pride takeover battles are often violent leading to severe injury or death of the losing lions.
It is to the successful male’s reproductive advantage to kill the suckling cubs of the defeated males. A nursing lioness that loses her cubs will come back into estrous within 2 to 3 weeks. The normal time between births is 2 years, which is the typical time for a male to rule a pride. Therfore, by killing all unweaned cubs at the time of pride takeover, males can ensure that they have some opportunity to father offspring of females who would otherwise not be available to them during their tenure as pride leaders. Females vigorously defend their cubs during a takeover and are sometimes killed also.
Mating System: polygynous ; cooperative breeder
Female lions are polyestrous, breeding throughout the year and peaking in the rainy season. Female lions tend to have cubs every 2 years. However, if a female's cubs are killed (usually by an intruding male lion), then the female comes into estrus early and has more cubs. Females are able to breed at 4 years of age and males at 5 years.
One to six cubs are born after a 3.5 month gestation period. There is an interbirth interval of approximately twenty to thirty months. Newborn cubs weigh 1 to 2 kg. Eyes typically open by 11 days, cubs can walk by 15 days and are able to run by 1 month of age. Mother lions keep their cubs in hiding until they reach about 8 weeks of age. The cubs are weaned between 7 and 10 months, however they are dependent upon adults in the pride until they are at least 16 months old.
Breeding interval: Female lions tend to have cubs every 2 years. However, if a female's cubs are killed (usually by an intruding male lion), then she will come into estrus early and have more cubs.
Breeding season: Breeding peaks during the rainy season, but is year-round.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average gestation period: 3.5 months.
Range weaning age: 7 to 10 months.
Range time to independence: 16 (low) months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization
Average birth mass: 1300 g.
Average gestation period: 109 days.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 1095 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1095 days.
Females are mainly responsible for care of the young. Females nurse their young, but will also nurse the young of their female relatives in the pride if litters are born close together. Cub mortality is lowest when related females in the same pride synchronously reproduce and cross-suckle. Since synchronous reproduction is common in prides, cubs are often raised in crèches where the entire pride helps to raise several litters.
Cubs are often left alone for more than one full day by the time they are 5 to 7 months old. This is a particularly vulnerable time for the cubs to be attacked by predators (often hyenas). Hungry mothers occasionally abandon weak cubs that can not keep up with the pride.
Although males do not directly provide care for the young in a pride, they are important in the protection of the cubs from rival males. So long as a male maintains control over a pride, preventing another male from taking over, the cubs he has sired are at lower risk of infanticide.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; inherits maternal/paternal territory
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- Schaller, G. 1972. The Serengeti Lion. Chicago, United States of America: The University of Chicago Press.
- Packer, C., A. Pusey. 2001. Egalitarianism in Female African Lions. Science, 293/5530: 690-693. Accessed February 09, 2004 at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/.
- Urban, M., P. West. 2002. "Lion Research Center" (On-line). Accessed February 10, 2004 at http://www.lionresearch.org/.
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