If you have ever owned a cat, you will know that they live between 12 -18 years, but have you ever wondered about their larger counterparts like lions?
Does living in the wild and hunting their own prey reduce a big cat’s life expectancy? How long do lions live?
Male lions live between 8 and 10 years, while the females live between 15 to 16 years in the wild.
So it seems that while females might do most of the leg work in the pride, they are at least rewarded with a longer lifespan. To understand this discrepancy and why their lifespan is so short, we need to know how their lifecycle works.
In this article, we will be unraveling the lifecycle of the lion to discover how they spend their lives and determine how long their lifespan really is.
Wildlifely Fact: The generation length of a lion is the same as a human, seven years. This usually results in a shift of power within the pride.
The generation length of a lion is the same as a human, seven years. This usually results in a shift of power within the pride.
Before we answer how long lions live, let’s learn a little more about their life cycle.
This can be broken down into four periods based on the lions’ significant life events. Let’s get into it!
As always, the lifecycle starts with mating.
Mating usually only occurs every two years or so and takes place during the estrus period of a female’s cycle, which lasts three to four days. The adult males and females within the pride will mate with various partners over a 24-hour period, though the dominant male will have the first choice of the females. They will mate up to 50 times within just one day during this fertile period. This mating style stimulates ovulation and increases the chance of pregnancy.
Once the females are pregnant, the gestation period is only an average of 110 days. When it is time, they will take themselves away to a secluded den where they can have their cubs away from the pride. A litter is usually between two and four cubs, six at an absolute maximum.
Unlike many wild young like wildebeest and giraffes, lion cubs are born relatively helpless as they are blind and unable to walk. They will open their eyes after seven days and generally walk at three weeks. This is why it is so key for the mother to give birth in a protected area away from any threats.
Females will introduce the cubs into the pride when they are around 6-8 weeks old, when they are able to walk and navigate the world for themselves. This introduction may occur earlier if there are other nursing mothers in the pride. When this happens, the lionesses will adopt a communal style of care for the cubs, where they will suckle and care for each other’s cubs as a group.
Weaning occurs around 6-7 months old when they will start feeding with the rest of the pride.
The mortality rate for young lions is very high due to their vulnerability to other predators and rival lions. They are also far more likely to get killed by an older lion in an altercation. Their survival rate drastically improves after two years of age.
The next stage of a lion’s life is when they come of age.
Sexual maturity is reached at three years old for males and four for females. At this stage, females are able to start reproducing, but it is a very different story for the males.
When males reach three years old, they will be forced to leave the pride and live nomadically. Some males will end up living nomadically for the rest of their lives. However, bachelors have been known to form small groups of two to four called coalitions that will live and hunt together.
The young males are able to compete with other males for dominance over a pride around 4-5 years old if they wish to join a pride.
Sexually mature females will sometimes be ousted from the pride to live nomadically or find a new pride, but it is not as common as with the males.
Prides will consist of a base of adults comprised of three or four males and several generations of females. Along with their young, their number will usually range between 15 and 30.
Seniority within the pride will change as the generations go by, and the older lions die off or are challenged by younger males.
In captivity, lions can live up to 25 years. However, in the wild, males will live 8-10 years while the females will live 15-16 years.
The lifespan of lions is relatively short, but the reason for this is seldom old age.
Lions are mainly killed by humans, other lions, or by being gored or kicked by their intended prey.
Females and nomadic males have a higher chance of getting injured by their prey, while males are more likely to die due to a fight with another lion. This may shed some light on why males have such a short lifespan compared to females.
Other reasons that females of so many species seem live longer than males is something that is still being studied; however, researchers have some theories when it comes to lions. One of these theories is due to the community that lionesses create.
Lionesses create tight-knit groups that hunt together and care for each other and their cubs. This protection and sharing of responsibilities likely have a lot to do with their ability to live so long.
On the other hand, male lions are more likely to take on threatening predators and fight with other lions over dominance. They do this one-on-one rather than taking on a threat as a team as the females will do, which reduces their risk of coming out injury free.
Now we know how long lions live; how do they stack up against other big cats?
|Lions||Male: 8-10 years Female: 12-16 years|
|Mountain Lion||8-13 years|
Overall, apart from female lions and leopards, big wild cats have relatively short lifespans, especially when compared with your average house cat.
There are many reasons for this, but since living in captivity can double a big cat’s lifespan, it is clear that this is due to the risks and threats of living in the wild as opposed to the safety of a controlled environment.
In the wild, there are so many threats that can put a big cat’s life at risk, like other predators and a threatened food source, but the worst culprit, as always, is humans.
There are many instances of monogamy in the animal world, but lions are not one of them.
When the females are in heat, they will mate with the various male multiple times over a 24-hour period. Predominantly, this will be a number of males within the pride, but if a bachelor comes into the vicinity at the right time, she may mate with him too.
In captivity, lions live in a very controlled environment.
There is no competition for territory or food, and they don’t even need to be concerned about the weather. They are also far less likely to fight each other to death in captivity. Since they don’t have to worry about defending land or being gored by their prey, lions can live in captivity to a ripe old age.
Now that we are familiar with their life cycle, we can clearly see that lions spend some of their time looking after and protecting their cubs. Obviously, another portion of time, especially for the females, is taken up with hunting.
However, lions only mate every two years and will only hunt every three to four days, so these activities will not take up their time on an average day.
Taking all that into consideration, in all honesty, the activity that lions do the most is sleep. Lions sleep for between 13 and 20 hours a day! This is essential for conserving their energy for hunting and keeping them cool during the hottest part of the day.
Unfortunately, as we have discovered, lions have a relatively short lifespan in the wild.
As in many species, the females can outlive the males by almost double their lifespan. Females live between 12 and 16 years, while males only live between 8-10 years.
We hope this has helped you learn a little something new about everyone’s favorite big cat and how their lives play out.