Lions are the second-largest cat species in the world and known across the globe as the ‘King of Beasts’. Although this regal accolade suggests dignity and composure, there are many aspects of a lions’ life that are far from glamorous.
For instance, the sex life of lions is complicated, highly variable and frankly a little bit absurd when seen from a human perspective.
If you are wondering if pairs of lions will mate for life, then you will find the answer to that question and many more in this article. We will be sharing some interesting facts about the reproductive cycles of lions and their habits when choosing a mate.
Do Lions Mate For Life?
The simple answer is no. Lions are not naturally monogamous, and given the chance, both sexes will mate with multiple partners. However, that doesn’t stop the males in a pride from often being very protective over any female they have chosen to mate with.
It is typical for the male lion to watch his lioness very carefully while she is in heat, to prevent her from sleeping with other males.
However, given the opportunity, a female lion will mate with as many males as she can to maximize her chance of getting pregnant.
Lions are highly social animals, and a pride will often consist of one or more females surrounded by a cadre of males, often brothers or other distant relatives.
No matter the size of the pride, it is common for male lions to mate with all of the females in their pride.
This may be limited by how many of the lionesses are in heat, as their cycle is relatively short-lived. Even though the lioness won’t remain in heat for very long, it is still common for a male to lose interest before the end of her cycle.
This offers the opportunity for less dominant males to get their chance if they are patient enough.
When Is The Breeding Season For Lions?
Lions don’t have a clearly defined breeding season like other species of large mammals.
Instead, the lionesses will go into estrus (the scientific term for being in heat) for brief windows of 3-4 days. In captivity, this can happen once a year, but in the wild it can be as seldom as once every two years.
As such, there is a very limited amount of time for male lions to mate with a female, hence why they stick close by when they sense a lioness is about to go into heat.
Lions make up for their short breeding cycles by copulating multiple times within this short space of time.
How Frequently Do Lions Have Sex
Within the 3 to 4 days during which a female lion is in heat, she will signal this to the males by assuming a position known as lordosis.
It is very common for more than one female in a pride to be in estrus at any one time. As such, male lions can end up having sex up to 50 times in a single day, often with multiple lionesses.
Sex generally lasts up to 21 seconds, during which the female lion will purr loudly. Many mating couples have also been seen gently biting each other’s necks or licking behind the ears. While that may sound affectionate, it is not without its complications.
The penis of the male lion has backward facing spines that cause mild injuries to the vagina when they are withdrawn. It is the pain from this process that triggers ovulation in the lioness.
Why Are Lions So Promiscuous?
Lionesses are receptive to mating for 3-4 days every 2 years, but the species manages to get a lot done in this brief window of time.
There have been many theories put forward as to why these animals are so promiscuous and the evolutionary advantages that their breeding cycle offers.
For the male lions, mating with as many females as possible ensures a greater chance of them siring more offspring. Although the males can get protective over the lioness while she is in heat, it is very common for litters of cubs to have more than one father.
Lionesses conceive on the fourth day of the estrus cycle, and only have a 38% chance of conceiving a litter. Because of this, the lioness will mate with as many partners as possible to increase her chances of getting pregnant.
Another reason given for why these big cats are so promiscuous is that it makes their cubs stronger. Mating with multiple different partners increases genetic diversity, which will make the cubs more resistant to disease and other hazards.
Do Lions Kill Their Cubs
Lions are well known for their tendency to commit casual infanticide. Male lions may kill any cubs that he can smell are not his, to increase the chance of his offspring surviving.
However, this isn’t as common as some may think. For one, the female lion will try to protect her cubs by hiding them or fighting back against the male.
It is also extremely disadvantageous for the pride if multiple cubs are killed in this way. In times of scarcity, when there is very little food, having more adult lions to scavenge and hunt will be a big benefit.
Sadly, there is one occasion when cubs are very likely to be murdered, which is when the dominant male of pride is killed or dies.
As a new male takes over, it is common for him to kill any cubs left over from the old male to prevent them contesting his dominance when they grow up.
We hope that after reading this article, you now know the answer to all your question about the sex life of lions.
While the breeding cycle of these animals is peculiar to say the least, it only happens once every two years, or annually for lions in captivity. As such, perhaps the promiscuity of these animals makes sense when compared to the brevity of their mating season.