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Lion vs. Lioness: Their Different Roles in the Pride

Lions are larger and stronger than females. Lionesses are more involved in raising the cubs and are part of the main social unit of a lion’s pride. While outside males may usurp the male spot within a tribe, outside females aren’t tolerated.

Lions and lionesses are the names of male and female lions. While they’re the same animal, they do have some differences. 

These differences, especially the physical ones, are easily visible when looking at a group of lions.

Both male and female lions are effective predators that sit at the top of the food chain. While lions are stronger, they fall behind when it comes to group behavior.

In this article, we’ll look at the main differences and similarities between lions and lionesses, we’ll see how we can them tell apart, and when they meet.

Lion vs. Lioness: An Overview

Lions and lionesses are largely differentiated by size. Males are clearly larger than females. Their behavior also varies as males are more involved in territorial defense, while females are the main hunters.

Here are the size differences between lions and lionesses:

Height3 ft 5 in – 3 ft 10 in3 ft 9 in – 4 ft 2 in
Length (Without Tail)5 ft 3 in – 6 ft6 ft – 6 ft 10 in
Weight240 – 316 pounds350 – 500 pounds

Males are larger substantially larger than females. Males regularly weigh over 350 pounds, while a 300-pound female is rare.[1]

Regardless of their size difference, both lions and lionesses are strong and powerful hunters, capable of hunting large prey.

Main Differences Between Lions and Lionesses

The main difference between lions and lionesses is their appearance. Lions are noticeably larger and they usually have their characteristic mane. Besides their physical differences, there are also some dissimilarities in the way lions and lionesses behave. Lionesses are much more social.

Physical Differences

Lion vs. Lioness Physical Differences

Physical differences between sexes of the same species are known as sexual dimorphism.

Sexual dimorphism represents the different ways two sexes evolved. It is usually tied to the main roles of the animals. 

The physical differences are caused by behavioral necessities:

  • Males defend territory: they grow larger and more aggressive.
  • Females raise the young in groups: they are more social.

These differences aren’t necessarily noticeable for all species. As for lions, sexual dimorphism is apparent. Lions generally look different than lionesses. They are larger and usually have a mane.

Here are the main physical differences between males and females:

  • Lions are larger: They are substantially heavier and longer than lionesses.
  • Lions are more muscular: Male lions carry more muscle mass than females.
  • Lionesses have larger hearts relative to body weight: Lionesses’ hearts represent 0.57% of their body weight, while lions’ only 0.45%. This gives the lionesses a slight stamina advantage.[2]
  • Lions generally have manes while lionesses don’t: Male lions are well known for their manes. There are however populations in which lions have short manes or don’t have them at all.[3] In some areas, females with manes have been observed.[4]

It can be hard to tell males and females apart in some populations. Although there are exceptions, large lions with manes are males.

Behavioral Differences

Lion vs. Lioness Behavioral Differences

Besides the physical differences, lions and lionesses also behave differently.


Lionesses are more social than male lions. They form the main “social unit” of a pride. All females in a pride are typically related and the group is like a large family.

Females cooperate within the pride, including when raising lion cubs. If they have cubs around the same time, lionesses are tolerant of each other’s offspring. They may even rear and feed each other’s cubs.

Lionesses temporarily leave their pride before giving birth. They will hunt alone and keep their distance from the rest of their family. When the cubs are six to eight weeks old they rejoin the pride.[4]

When young lionesses are forced out of their pride they generally travel less than the males and stay closer to their natal pride. Due to this, adult lionesses in an area tend to be closer related than the males.[5]

Lionesses are better at chasing prey thanks to their superior stamina and lighter weight.


Lions are also social but are not as tolerant of other lions as the females. Lions can also be residents in a pride without being related to the other members. 

This is important for the genetic diversity of the overall lion population.

Males travel far from their natal pride before gaining “residency” in another. They spend more time than females as “nomads”. 

Some lions are as old as seven years before earning residency in a pride.

To gain “residency” males engage in fights with the resident males of a foreign pride. If they win, they “usurp” the spot from their foe.

Males will then kill the cubs of other males, forcing adolescent lions that aren’t their offspring to leave the pride. They are territorial and are generally the ones defending the pride from outsiders.

Lions can also live in small groups by themselves, excluding females. These groups are called coalitions. Males in a coalition are usually related and originate from the same natal pride.

It can take several years for a coalition to win residency in a pride. They do so by displacing or killing rival lions.

Asiatic lions are less social than their African counterparts. They are solitary or form small groups of up to three lions. They only associate with females when mating.[6]

Main Similarities Between Lions and Lionesses

There are many similarities between lions and lionesses, including their general appearance and behavior patterns. These similarities aren’t surprising as the two animals are the same species.

Because lions and lionesses both are lions, they behave and look exceedingly similar to one another.

Main Similarities Between Lions and Lionesses

Here are the main similarities between lions and lionesses:

  • They have nearly identical coat colors.
  • They can both have faint spots on their legs and underside or no markings.
  • Generally males have manes and females don’t but there can be maneless lions and maned lionesses.
  • They both have a black tuft of fur at the end of their tails.
  • They are social animals.
  • Their diets are identical, even if males eat more.
  • They can both breed with multiple partners.
  • They use similar hunting tactics.
  • They reach maturity at around three to four years.

Lions and lionesses can look almost indistinguishable from one another at times. They are also both capable hunters and unusually social felines.

How To Tell Lions and Lionesses Apart

You can tell the difference between lions and lionesses by the male’s mane. Males are also larger and more imposing. There aren’t major differences in color between the two but males are often darker.

It’s generally easy to tell lions apart from lionesses as they have their characteristic manes. A maned lion is one of the most recognizable animals in the animal kingdom.

In some regions (or due to health issues) male lions may not have manes or they may have short manes. Similarly, some females have manes that make them look like males.

Most other physical differences between them are insignificant.

If you see lions during feeding time, you can tell difference by feeding order. Lionesses allow lions to eat first.

How To Tell Lions and Lionesses Apart

When do Lions and Lionesses Meet?

Lions and lionesses may meet at any time during their life. Prides regularly have one or several resident males. If females are in heat they may allow nomadic males to approach them too. Young males need to earn the right to hang around females.

Lions and lionesses meet regularly in the wild. Unlike other felines, they don’t exclusively come into contact when mating.

Prides have one or several resident males that frequently interact with lionesses. If a pride doesn’t have a resident male, the lionesses allow nomads or coalitions to approach them when they are in heat.

Young males that recetly left their natal prides will most likely go through a period without contact with lionesses. 

They need to grow and win their residency in a pride, either by usurping the “spot” from another male or by being accepted by a pride without a resident.


Lions and lionesses are part of the same species, but there are quite a few differences between them. Males are larger, stronger, and generally have a mane. They form smaller groups than the females, either with other males or with a pride of females. 

Females cooperate and help each other when rearing cubs, while males have a more “hands-off” parenting approach. 

If you can’t tell lions and lionesses apart by their size or the lion’s mane they are hard to distinguish. They meet frequently and interact regularly with each other.

About Codrin Frunzete

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