A splendid, powerfully built cat, the lion has a broad head, thick, strong legs and a long tail tipped with a tuft of hair that conceals a clawlike spine. The male is larger than the female and has a heavy mane on the neck and shoulders. Body coloration varies from tawny-yellow to reddish-brown, and the mane may be light yellow to black. They live in groups, known as prides, consisting of up to 3 adult males and up to 15 females and their young in a territory that is defended against intruders, particularly other mature male lions. A small group of young males without prides may live together.
This impressive creature actually spends 20 or more hours a day resting. Lions normally hunt during the day, but in areas where they themselves are hunted, they are active only at night. Lions prey on mammals, such as gazelles, antelope and zebras, and may cooperate to kill larger animals, such as buffaloes and giraffes. Smaller animals and birds and even crocodiles may also be eaten. Lionesses do most of the hunting, often in groups, some acting as beaters to drive prey toward other lionesses lying in wait. Lions attack by stalking their prey and approaching it as closely as possible before making a short, rapid chase and pounce. They kill by a bite to the neck or throat.
Breeding occurs at any time of year. A litter of 1 to 6 young, usually 2 or 3, is born after a gestation of 102 to 113 days. They are suckled for about 6 months, but after the first 3 months, an increasing proportion of their food comes from the kills of adults. The cubs are left behind with one or two adults while the rest of the pride goes off to hunt, but if a kill is made, a lioness will return and lead them to it. Once they are over 4 months old, the cubs accompany their mothers everywhere, even following behind on hunting trips. They are not sexually mature until about 18 months old; young males are driven from the pride at about this age, but females remain with their family.