Lions are magnificent, wise and fearsome in equal measure. They are one of the most notorious apex predators around today, but as babies, they can look more like domestic cats than big cats at the top of the food chain. You wouldn’t think, looking at a baby lion, that this vulnerable little creature, so dependant on their mother, would be the same ungulate stalking big cat that they are destined to become.
As baby lions grow, they are very playful, family orientated and curious cats. They love their family, to get up to mischief, and they can be quite noisy little felines too.
In this post we explore some amazing facts about baby lions, and answer a few frequently asked questions. We’ve also got some cute pictures of baby lions for you too!
9 Amazing Baby Lion Facts
Baby Lions Are Called Cubs
Like the other big cats, new born baby lions are called ‘cubs‘. They are born in areas of thick cover, caves or scrub, where the mother will make a private ‘den‘. Collectively, baby lions will be known as a ‘litter‘ when with siblings, but they may also be a ‘crèche‘ of baby lions, with other youngsters while the mothers are off hunting.
As they grow up, male lions are simply known as a ‘lion‘, and a female is a ‘lioness‘. They live together in big social units, usually with one dominant male, a few females and their cubs. The Collective noun for a group of lions is a ‘pride‘ of lions.
Mothers Give Birth To Their Cubs In Isolation
When cubs are born, the process is kept secret. The pregnant lioness will give birth usually to 2 -3 cubs, but can birth up to six. They create solitary dens and keep their cubs away from the rest of the pride. They will proceed to hide the young from everyone else for the following six weeks.
It is thought they do this to protect the cubs from intruding male lions and other predators. Also, it’s thought that any younger than this and they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pride, and could get lost.
While they are in this infant period, she will move her cubs to a new den site several times a month to avoid predators, carrying each lion cub, one by one, by the nape of their neck.
Baby Lions Are Born Vulnerable And Blind
Baby lions are not able to look after themselves for the first few weeks after birth. For a start, similarly to baby tigers, baby lions are born blind. They have a membrane that covers their eyes for their first few days. Their eyes usually open around ten days after birth. Even once they open, it takes up to another week until they can see properly.
They depend on their mothers milk for all their sustenance for the first few months of life, and continue to nurse for many months even after they are introduced to solid food.
Lion cubs are unable to defend themselves from any would be predator that manages to find their hidden den. They are at their most vulnerable when their mother lioness is away hunting. Though she will do her best to move the den around to limit the threat of predators or other lions, if cubs are found, they don’t stand much of a chance.
They are light ‘sandy’ yellow or yellowish-red in color when born depending on the subspecies. They can look like a domestic cat. They’re also usually covered in rosettes and spots that help to camouflage them in their den to protect them whilst the adults have gone out to hunt. These usually disappear as they age.
Baby Lions Grow Up In Big Social Families
Generally, big cats are solitary animals. However, lions are the exception to this. A pride of lions can contain as many as 40 individuals. However, some lions of both sexes become nomads and prefer to live alone.
Like their African cousins, Asian lions are highly sociable animals, but the Asian lion pride is generally smaller. Studies have shown that most Asian prides contain just two adult females as compared to the average African lion pride which usually contains 4 to 6 adult females. There may also be up to three adult males in a pride, but one will always be dominant. If there is more than one male, there will be more females too.
The cubs of all the females also make up the numbers in a pride. Cubs will usually move on to mate and create their own pride once their mother is ready to start breeding again, or once she gives birth to a new litter. Usually before three years. They won’t be able to challenge other dominant males to take over a pride when they are still this young though, and will remain nomadic usually until they reach around 5 years old.
Some will remain as solitary nomads, never challenging for a pride. Others, though more rare, will live together with a group of equal males known as a ‘coalition‘, which is a term usually reserved for a group of cheetahs.
Lion Cubs Are Blue Eyed Babies
All species of lion are born with grey-blue eyes. They are blind at first but once the membranes peel back on their new born eyes, these grey to blue wonders are revealed. They change color to the fiery amber that we are more familiar with as the lion matures, usually by around 8 weeks of age. Shortly after they have been reunited with the larger pride.
Lion Cubs Are Diphyodonts
Baby lion cubs are born without any teeth. After the first few weeks they will start to grown in a set of ‘milk teeth’ or baby teeth. These are smaller and temporary teeth that they lose as they grow. They are replaced with a set of permanent adult teeth as they get older.
Animals that get two sets of teeth in their life are known as Diphyodonts. All primates including baby humans and baby monkeys are also Diphyodonts. Many mammals such as baby sheep, baby pigs and rabbits are too!
Most Baby Lions Never Reach Adulthood
Unfortunately, less than half of cubs make it to be a year old and four out of five have died by the time they are two, generally either from animal attacks or starvation.
More females will reach adulthood than males. In some populations only around 12% of males will make it to two years old.
The two main contributors to the high early death rate for lions is competition for food and competition for the pride.
Those that live in rich feeding grounds tend to have a better chance, but where food is scarce hierarchy will determine who gets a meal and who doesn’t. The runts of the litter are more vulnerable in these conditions.
When an alpha is challenged by a competing male and loses, they will also kill young cubs that are not their own. This removes a potential threat and also allows space in the pride for mothers to rear the new males cubs. It can be a brutal early start for a lion cub.
Baby Lions Learn Through Play
Similarly to baby cheetahs and baby tigers, lion cubs learn much of their skills through play and imitation. They climb trees to learn about balancing skills and looking out for threats or prey. They playfight with siblings to learn hunting skills. They will also watch and imitate their mothers to learn valuable skills.
They will stalk and chase each other, taking it in turns to be the hunter or the hunted. By the time a lion turns around 11 months old they will be ready to participate in the real thing with their mother.
Baby Male Lions Don’t Grow Their Mane Until Their Second Year
Female cubs will never grow a mane, only male cubs will. This is one of the most obvious features of sexual dimorphism between the two genders. Though males will also generally be larger in size than females too.
The lion cub will not develop their mane until after they have reached their first birthday. From about 12 to 14 months old, they will start to develop a thicker, rougher coat around their neck and upper chest. It will steadily grow in, developing fully across their second year. As they age, it will continue to get longer and darker in color.
Baby Lion FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Lion?
The gestation period for lions is quite short, around four months or 110 days. As lions are mammals, the females nurse their cubs for about 6 to 7 months. The cubs are totally dependent on their mothers for the initial 3 months of their lives, and after 3 months they start eating meat.
A mother does not integrate herself and her cubs back into the pride until the cubs are six to eight weeks old
Both male and female lions become sexually mature between the ages of two and three, and by the age of four, most females have reproduced. They usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs at a time but are capable of double that. They can give birth to a litter every two years.
Lions usually live for 10 to 14 years in the wild, and for 20 to 25 years in captivity.
How Big Do Baby Lions Grow?
As a newborn, a lion cub only weighs between 2.6 and 4.6 pounds (1.2 to 2.1 kg). They will grow massively in the first two years of live, and become fully grown adults by the time they reach 4 years old.
When mature, lions are very large animals that can weigh between 120 kg—249 kg (264 lbs—550 lbs) with a length between 1.4m—2.5m (4.7ft—8.2ft). Lions have sexual dimorphism, meaning that females (lionesses) typically have a different appearance and a smaller size than males.
African lions tend to be bigger than Asian lions, in both size and weight.
What Do Baby Lions Eat?
For the first few weeks, lion cubs rely on mothers milk and will feed from the teat. This will be their diet for the first two to three months of their life. After this they will start to wean, adding meat to their diet as well as their milk. They will continue to take on board some mothers milk until they reach between 6 – 8 months of age.
Once they hit between 11 months to a year old, young cubs begin to participate in pride kills.
As adults, their prey usually consists of large ungulates and other mammals weighing between 190–550 kg (420–1,210 lbs). These include zebras, wildebeest and antelopes. They’ll also eat giraffe, buffalo, gazelle and warthog, and young elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus. In times of shortage, they also catch and eat a variety of smaller animals, like rodents and reptiles.
Lions will also steal kills from hyenas, leopards and other predators.
Where Do Baby Lions Live?
Baby Lions live with their mothers in prides that contain one dominant male, possibly two more adult males, a few females and their offspring. This can be over 40 animals for some prides, but most are around 20.
There are two species of lion, the African and the Asian Lion, and they both live in different habitats.
The African lion is found throughout the south Sahara desert and in parts of southern and eastern Africa. They inhabit grassy plains, savannahs, open woodlands and scrub country.
The current wild population of Asian Lion consists of about 650 individuals restricted to the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat, India. Their existing habitat includes tropical dry forests, tropical grasslands, deserts and semi-deserts.
The home area of a lion pride range from 13 to 100 square miles.
What Are The Predators Of Baby Lions?
Lions are both apex predators and a keystone species. As an apex predator, lions reside at the top of the food chain, but even at the top of the chain, there are a few animals that may try their luck against them.
One of the few animals that will attack lions are hyenas, which will kill an injured lion, or if food is scarce, will occasionally attack a healthy one.
Baby lions are more vulnerable to predators however. In early life, they don’t have the size, claws or skills to fend off predators.
As well as hyenas, baby lion cubs need to watch out for crocodiles and other big cats such as cheetahs and leopards that are only too happy to kill them, for both a meal and to reduce their own competition for food.
The biggest threat to lions though are humans, particularly hunters. Poachers hunt lions for their bones, which are used in traditional medicines as well as in expensive wines. They are also hunted by trophy hunters and big game hunters.
Where Does The Name Lion Come from?
The word ‘lion’ originates from ‘λέων‘ (leon) in Ancient Greek. From here it translates to the Latin ‘leō’, ‘leōnis’. This old Latin later translated into the Old French ‘Lion‘ and this is where the name originates in the English language.