The Darker The Mane, The More Powerful The Lion

“Do not pluck the beard of a dead lion.” —Martial, “Epigrams” (translated)

In A Nutshell

A lion’s mane isn’t just there for protection: The color indicates the male’s strength and health, letting potential mates—or rivals—know just how powerful the lion is. The darker the man, the closer the male is to the top of his game. The color can fluctuate based on how much stress or trauma the lion has experienced.

The Whole Bushel

The color of a lion’s mane directly correlates with his health, testosterone, and vigor. Mane color indicates a lion’s prowess to his fellows. The darker the mane, the more powerful the lion; when darker, the lion will scare off potential rivals or attract potential mates. A lighter mane conveys the opposite.

Mane color is not static—it changes according to the well-being of the lion. The mane will lighten if the lion has gone through a rough patch. It will darken again after he recovers, moves to more hospitable territory, or receives nourishment.

Females have shown a preference for lions with dark manes over light manes—even when the dark hair was significantly shorter. Mane length may signify lion health, like mane color, but length more than likely simply corresponds with temperature and climate. Because of this, color is more significant to females interested in mating.

Long, dark manes come at a price: They’re extraordinarily hot and heavy. In relatively cooler climates, like parts of Morocco and South Africa, males can manage bigger, darker manes. Many of the males of Tsavo, Kenya have no manes at all (and consequently, no dark hair). Lions who move to cooler climates can grow thicker, longer manes—which will just as easily shed when the lion moves somewhere warmer. Only the most biologically superior of males can afford a huge, dark mane in the hottest of climates.

The mane has also been correlated with protection, as it makes the lion look bigger to would-be attackers.

These realities don’t bode well for the protagonists of The Lion King: though Mufasa and Simba had thick, large manes, Scar’s jet-black mane would have marked him out as the most powerful lion on the planet and the rightful ruler of the pride.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: Female Lions Prefer Dark-Maned Males, Study Finds
The Field Museum: Lion mane linked to climate
Big Cat: Lion Information

  • Hillyard

    So lion ladies don’t prefer blondes.

  • inconspicuous detective

    very cool article. nice to see some stuff on here today that wasn’t “the difference between X and X…” for a change.

  • Hadeskabir

    Since I first watched the Lion King when I was a kid, that I think Scar was the rightful ruler of the pride. He was very smart and planned ahead, while Mufasa was only a stupid brute who did nothing besides being older than Scar. So Disney is teaching kids that being a handsome brute is more important than being intelligent.

    • Karmala

      That’s all good, but, Scar was a giant, evil arsehole.

      • Hadeskabir

        In the animal kingdom those are the ones that almost always win.

        • Nicci Rowe

          Yeah, but animal don’t speak English in the wild either. They don’t run around, singing songs about who’s going to be king, or crap like that.

          Scar was the bad guy, look what happened when he WAS in charge! Or did you forget, when he was in charge, the whole place fell apart. No food, no water, it was a hellhole. So he really WASN’T a good leader at all, OR smart, because if he was either of those things, he would have understood that he needed to hunt sparingly to make sure he didn’t overkill and end up with nothing, and he would have led the pride to a new place if food/water DID finally run out. Instead, he sat on his stupid, worthless butt and ordered around a bunch of Hyena’s to do his dirty work for him, turned the place into hell on Earth, and then died a coward, at the paws of Simba.

          Regardless, Disney isn’t teaching kids that “being a handsome brute is more important than being intelligent”, they’re teaching kids that if they’re not careful, and if they don’t follow the right path, the only path they’re left with is destruction, and that being a bad person never pays off.

          • Lisa 39

            Well put.

          • Nicci Rowe

            Thanks Lisa 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            You’re welcome.

          • Hadeskabir

            I think we’re taking The Lion King too seriously.

          • Nicci Rowe

            I do believe you’re the one who started the conversation in the first place, with this post:

            “Since I first watched the Lion King when I was a kid, that I think Scar
            was the rightful ruler of the pride. He was very smart and planned
            ahead, while Mufasa was only a stupid brute who did nothing besides
            being older than Scar. So Disney is teaching kids that being a handsome
            brute is more important than being intelligent.”

            If you do not like your logic being questioned, perhaps keep it to yourself? I was simply stating where the flaws were in what you posted initially, and stating my reasons as to why I think what I do, which in my experience, is what one does when debating a point. Terribly sorry, I guess the idea of having a real, intelligent conversation/debate with a fellow human being must be a very unrealistic idea for one to have.

          • Hadeskabir

            Yes, I’m retarded and uneducated. My apologies Miss Rowe.

          • Nicci Rowe

            Haha, oh my, did I mention once that you were retarded or uneducated? You seem to have misunderstood what I said, but that’s fine, take what you will from what I said. Though I should point out, even if you WERE retarded and uneducated, as you put it, then there would be no need for an apology, as I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to help being that way. 😉 Regardless, MY apologies if you took my reply in the wrong way, I have a very dry sense of humour. It was my way of TRYING to spark up some sort of decent conversation. Too many people out there that don’t know how to have a REAL conversation. I had hoped, being on a site named ‘Knowledge Nuts’, I might finally be able to find someone worth having a real conversation with!

          • Hadeskabir

            I usually engage in real debates in this website, but debating over the Lion King seems to be a waste of time and I really don’t want to bother myself with it. I’m a nice man Miss Rowe, maybe in another time we might have a real discussion in a better topic.

          • Nicci Rowe

            That would be nice, debating over Lion King IS trivial, I agree with you there, but hey, anything to get one talking, sometimes even the most trivial of discussions can lead to greater ones, if you let them take their course. 🙂

          • Schroederville

            HAHAHA! 🙂

          • Logic

            You do understand Scar (Taka) is not killed by Simba but rather is “murdered,” and then eaten by hyenas?

    • Barbi

      scar is actually older than mufasa

      • Logic

        Common Misconception Mufasa is actually the elder in the offical cannon.

  • Karmala

    Maybe, as a general rule, this could also extend to humans. You know the saying, “Tall, dark and handsome”. Just a thought.

    • lbatfish

      Would you consider “silver” to be a dark hair color? When it’s wet, at least? That way, I’d hit on at least one out of three . . . .

      • Karmala

        Awww, come on. I can see you’re small red and cute.

        • lbatfish

          “Amazing lips” would take me up to two out of four.

          • Lisa 39

            Amazing lips & some women like silver!

          • lbatfish

            Like my ancestral team — the Green Bay Packers — I’m totally willing to settle for a regular-season average in the .500 range, as long as I beat out the other contenders for my division.

          • Lisa 39

            I like the packers! But you can’t do any worse than my team, the browns! & i’m sure you do just fine with the ladies!

  • Ace

    The title pretty much says everything

  • lilbear68

    but in the wild the lions lose their manes. the lions you see with manes are those that live in captivity

  • bum

    what would happen if someone dyed a male lions man really really dark right before mating season. i bet that he’d be quite pleased about what happened to him.

    • Barbara Lerner Specter

      Getting normal cats into the shower is hard enough

  • Schroederville

    So Cecil was a true king. I hope his death invokes the awakening of the world to the plight of endangered animals being hunted and killed by evil rich egotistical sadists like that cowardly dentist. Cecil’s story shook me to the core, and I wasn’t alone in that. Look at the worldwide outcry now. God, I hope something good and respectful comes of it. #Bantrophyhunting #JusticeForCecil

  • blackfeather

    I think you might want to correct the text. I will assume you didn’t mean to refer to humans in the sentence, “The darker the man, the closer the male is to the top of his game.” This has some very, very unfortunate and problematic implications. I really hope that’s a typo and not intentional.