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Panthera leo, Lion
Dr. Pamela Owen - The University of Texas at Austin
Panthera leo
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University of California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ 117851)

Image processing: Ms. Farrah Welch
Image processing: Dr. Ted Macrini
Publication Date: 11 Feb 2002

Growth series: juvenile | adult


Panthera leo, the lion, is widely distributed in the open woodlands, grasslands, and scrub of Africa, and a single population (P. l. persica) resides in the Gir Forest of India. Panthera leo has been extirpated from Algeria, Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia within the last 150 years, and from western Europe 2,000 years ago. Panthera l. persica is listed on CITES Appendix I and has been given endangered status by the U.S. and IUCN; all other populations are listed on CITES Appendix II.


Panthera leo is a member of the pantherine lineage, which also includes P. pardus (leopard), P. tigris (tiger), P. onca (jaguar), Neofelis nebulosa (clouded leopard), and Uncia uncia (snow leopard). Fossils of their most recent common ancestor have yet to be identified, but mitochondrial gene sequence data suggest that species divergence began 6 million years ago. The earliest record of P. leo is from Laetoli, Tanzania, with a date of roughly 3.8 million years before present. By 900,000 years ago, P. leo reached Eurasia.

The Pleistocene lions, Panthera leo atrox (American lion) and P. l. fossilis/spelaea (Eurasian cave lion) generally were of larger (up to 25%) body size than the extant subspecies: the average body weight for male American lions has been estimated as 235 kg (518 lbs.) and that of females as 175 kg (386 lbs.). The extinct subspecies may not have been cooperative hunters, or perhaps only formed small foraging groups, behaving more like the Asiatic lion, P. l. persica. Fossil remains from Rancho La Brea indicate equal numbers of adult males and females, suggesting that the American lion hunted in pairs or alone.

The morphology of the skull of Panthera leo is designed to exert powerful forces at the level of the canines when closing its jaws. The primary jaw-closing muscle, the temporalis, originates on the wide area of the lateral surface of the cranium. Lions often kill large prey such as zebra and wildebeest by strangulation (closing jaws around the throat) or by suffocation (closing jaws around the muzzle). Panthera leo relies heavily on its massive canines and incisors when feeding on muscle and connective tissue, and the skin of the prey is removed from the carcass with short pulls using these anterior teeth. Not surprisingly, the teeth P. leo breaks most often are the canines; the probability of an individual lion breaking a tooth during its lifetime is estimated to be greater than 0.25.

About the Species

This specimen of Panthera leo, a juvenile, was collected by Tom Larson, Zkukuza, Kruger Park, Transvaal, South Africa in 1948. It was made available to The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility for scanning courtesy of Drs. Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Jessica Theodor, Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles. Funding for scanning was provided by Dr. Van Valkenburgh and by a National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative grant to Dr. Timothy Rowe of The University of Texas at Austin. This lion is one of several felid carnivorans included in ongoing research of respiratory turbinates by Drs. Van Valkenburgh and Theodor.

About this Specimen

The specimen was scanned by Matthew Colbert and Richard Ketcham on 08 December 2000 along the coronal axis for a total of 483 slices, each slice 0.50 mm thick and with an interslice spacing of 0.50 mm for the coronal axis and 0.32 mm for the horizontal and sagittal axes. The dataset displayed was reduced for optimal Web delivery from the original, much higher resolution CT data.

About the


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Van Valkenburgh, B. 1996. Feeding behavior in free-ranging, large African carnivores. Journal of Mammalogy 77:240-254.

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Panthera leo species accounts provided by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group

The brain of Panthera leo (Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections website)

Panthera leo on The Animal Diversity Web (The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

The Lion Research Center

Asiatic Lion Information Centre

American lion on the Yukon Beringia website

American lion image on the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries website

Panthera leo on the Cyber Zoomobile

Panthera leo on Big Cats Online

Felidae on the Cyber Zoomobile

& Links

None available.


To cite this page: Dr. Pamela Owen, 2002, "Panthera leo" (On-line), Digital Morphology. Accessed July 25, 2024 at http://digimorph.org/specimens/Panthera_leo/juvenile/.

©2002-20019 - UTCT/DigiMorph Funding by NSF