Lions rival tigers for the title of biggest cat. In fact, lions and tigers are so similar in their physical features that without their distinctively colored fur, even scientists have trouble telling them apart. Male lions weigh between 150 and 250 kg (330 and 550 lb) and stand about 123 cm (about 48 in) tall at the shoulder. They measure up to 250 cm (98 in) in length, not including the tail, which measures an additional 90 to 105 cm (35 to 41 in). Female lions are smaller, weighing between 120 and 182 kg (265 and 400 lb). They stand about 107 cm (about 42 in) tall and measure less than 175 cm (less than 69 in) in length, with a slightly shorter tail.
Lions have massive shoulders and strong forelimbs, long, sharp claws, and short, powerful jaws. As carnivores, feeding entirely on the flesh of other mammals, lions have 30 teeth, including large piercing canines to grab and kill prey, scissorlike molars to slice into flesh, and small incisors to scrape meat from bones.
Adult lions have fur that varies in color from light tan to reddish brown. The tufted tail is tipped in darker fur. Only male lions grow a mane around the shoulders, which grows darker and fuller as the animal ages. Cubs are born with thickly spotted fur, which helps them hide from predators in brush and clumps of vegetation. The spots gradually fade as the cubs grow up, sometimes remaining on the legs and belly until the lion reaches adulthood.
African lions and Asian lions differ slightly in appearance. Asian lions have a flap of skin on the abdomen, called a belly fold, not found in African lions. Male African lions have fuller manes than Asian lions do, and the shape of their skulls differs slightly.
Despite their immense strength, lions do not have an easy life in the wild. They suffer from parasites and disease, they get injured or even killed while hunting or fighting with each other, and they may starve when food is scarce. About two-thirds of all cubs die before they are 1 year old. Adult males are usually old and battered by age 10, if they survive that long, and they rarely live longer than 12 years. Females may live longer, up to 16 years, and some are still breeding at 15. In zoos, where they receive veterinary care and plenty of food—and are not allowed to fight—lions can live as long as 25 years.
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