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Cool Things About Lions

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1. Lions coordinate attacks on prey

Almost like running a football play, lions are known to move into complex formations and take on different roles before launching an assault on unsuspecting prey. One common strategy is for several lions to stealthily encircle their prey in a triangular pattern, with one lion launching an ambush attack that drives their fleeing prey towards the other hidden lions. 

2. You will never hear a lion purr 

Unlike a house cat, lions and tigers cannot purr to show contentment. This is due to an anatomical difference in the hyoid apparatus that lies in the base of the animal’s throat. Smaller members of the feline family—like house cats, bobcats and sand cats—have a hyoid bone that can vibrate against the cat’s larynx. This vibration is what creates that soothing resonant noise, or purr, in small cats. But in big cats, the hyoid bone is replaced by a fleshy length of muscle and cartilage, which is the same feature that allows lions and tigers to roar. This appendage is too soft to vibrate like a hyoid bone, which means it’s biologically impossible for a lion to purr. 

So how do lions display their contentment? Often through a combination of growls, grunts and moans. 

3. When it comes to manes, size matters… or does it?

There is still much debate among the scientific community as to why male lions grow such thick, luscious manes. Some evidence suggests female lions may be more attracted to males with longer, darker manes, which could imply that a healthy head of fur lets females know that the male is a desirable candidate for breeding. Another common theory is a thick mane offers some degree of protection against bites to the throat from challenging males. Mane growth appears to be linked to testosterone levels, so a big, furry mane might send a message to potential rivals that they should think twice before picking a fight.

4. Hunting strategies vary by prey species 

A group of lions will often rely on ambushes to take down prey, but their exact hunting patterns vary depending on which animal they hunt. For smaller animals like gazelles and warthogs, lions will often attack with a straightforward ambush assault. For larger animals, like zebras or Cape buffalo, lions might choose to charge headlong at the herd, creating chaos and separating weak individuals who can be picked off more easily. One pride of lions in Botswana has been documented hunting elephants by isolating the calves from the rest of the herd, then driving them into a deep river and retrieving the carcass after their victim drowned.        

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