Dubbed the kings of the jungle – even if they technically live in savannas – lions are some of the largest land carnivores in the world. They live in Africa and Asia, usually in tropical or sub-tropical environments. However, due to climate change, winters in the savannas are sometimes cold. How do lions survive the harsh temperatures? Do they hibernate or migrate?
Do Lions Hibernate?
Lions do not hibernate. They don’t migrate either. Lions live in regions with wet summers and dry, warm winters. The temperatures in their habitat rarely drop under 68°F in the coldest months. Things are different for mountain lions, who may live in temperate or cold climate areas. However, mountain lions are adapted to survive harsh weather.
Lions are members of the Panthera family, and nearly all wild lions live in Africa, in the savannas surrounding the Sahara Desert. The only exception is a small population of lions living in western India. In both habitats, the temperatures remain warm all year long. This is why lions don’t hibernate and struggle to survive in colder weather.
While climate change could mess up with the temperatures in these areas, snow is still a sparse phenomenon. For the time being, at least, lions have no reason to adapt to cold weather.
In a typical temperate climate winter, lions would likely freeze to death before it even starts to snow.
Now, are you wondering how lions in the zoo manage to survive even when it’s very cold outside? The secret is in the heated rock dens in their enclosures. These lions may choose to roam around their enclosures during the day, but most of them will stay inside the den to protect themselves from the cold.
African lions are not adapted for surviving cold weather. The summer and winter temperatures in the savanna remain in the 68°F – 86°F range all year long; the only thing changing is the type of weather. Summer in the savanna is generally wet, with annual rainfalls ranging from ten to 30 inches per year.
Winters (which are actually the dry season) in the savannas are dry and slightly cooler than the summers. However, the lowest temperatures rarely go under 68°F.
Dry seasons in tropical climates can become severe due to prolonged drought conditions. Thus, lions are adapted to survive the extreme heat and lack of water rather than the harsh, cold temperatures associated with winter.
Asiatic lions only live in India’s Gir Forest National Park in the state of Gujarat. Although India has six seasons rather than four, the temperatures in Gujarat rarely drop under 50°F, and they generally get this low only during nighttime.
Daytime temperatures remain in the 84°F to 86°F range during winter and can exceed 120°F in summer.
Like African lions, Asiatic lions aren’t adapted to survive cold winters and harsh weather. They have short fur, and their bodies are constructed to survive drought and extreme heat rather than snow and low temperatures.
Mountain lions belong to a different family – Felinae – and are different from the African and Asian lions. Their name comes from Spanish, but the official name of the species is the puma.
Pumas are native to the Americas, living in different habitats that vary from mountains to rain forests, open steppes, and grasslands. Climates in these areas also vary from cold to warm.
Unlike lions, mountain lions are adapted to survive cold weather. They do not hibernate, but anatomical adaptations enable them to grow thicker fur and build body fat that keeps them warm in low temperatures.
Mountain lions are not only adapted to survive cold weather, but they are very agile predators that take advantage of deep snow to kill large prey.
Do Lions Migrate?
Lions do not migrate. They don’t have to, considering that they live in warm climate areas where there is an abundance of prey all year round.
In the dry season, some lion prides may follow migrating herds of large game in their search for water. However, they generally don’t.
Nomad lions are more likely to move between territories or migrate. These are lone lions, generally young males, that do not live in prides. However, once a lone lion finds a mate and starts a new pride, it will generally settle in one territory.
Like most big cats, lions are highly territorial and occupy the same territory for generations. The size of the territory depends on prey abundance, access to water, and the presence of other prides in the area.
Mountain lions may or may not migrate. Their behavior generally follows the migratory patterns of their prey. However, some mountain lions display a non-migratory behavior even if living in areas where the ungulates migrate.
How Do Lions Survive In Cold Winter Months?
As explained above, lions are not adapted to survive in cold weather. Mountain lions, on the other hand, are. Here’s how they survive.
A mountain lion’s main weapon against cold is its thick fur that can keep it warm in the coldest temperatures.
Like most mammals living in temperate and cold climate areas, mountain lions generally shed their summer coat in early fall and grow a thicker coat for the winter. The dual layers of the winter coat enable mountain lions to trap warm air around their bodies while preventing moisture from soaking into the underfur.
In winter, the fur covers most of the puma’s body, including its paws (with the exception of the paw pads).
Talking about the paws, they are also large enough to act as snowshoes in deep snow. This comes as an advantage, giving mountain lions the agility ungulates lack when moving across frosted lands.
The small ears also help the cougar prevent heat loss through the extremities. Despite the smaller size of their ears, mountain lions have excellent hearing and can detect prey even without seeing it.
While not necessarily a cold weather adaptation, mountain lions also have excellent eyesight. They can see the prey in the dark, which definitely comes in handy when trying to catch prey without spending too much energy.
In addition to the anatomical adaptations, mountain lions also change their predatory behavior to minimize energy loss.
While pumas’ preferred prey is deer all year long, they will also hunt smaller prey like rabbits in the warmer months.
However, in winter, mountain lions do their best to feed on deer as much as possible. They do this because large prey provides more energy, helping cougars to replenish the energy lost during the hunt. Prey selection is even more important if the cougar has kittens, which are usually born in late winter or early spring.
For this reason, some mountain lions follow the same migratory patterns as the herds of game.
Beyond prey selection, pumas make use of all their weapons to track and catch prey in winter, and this involves stalking.
Thanks to their sharp vision, cougars can see and follow the pawprints left by ungulates in the snow. This usually leads them directly to their prey of choice.
Pumas are exceptional predators that hunt by stealth. They can move in absolute silence and surprise the prey with a quick attack. In most cases, a cougar can kill a deer in one move.
The African and Asiatic lions are majestic creatures that don’t hibernate and don’t migrate. Hibernation is unnecessary – these mammals live in warm climate areas where the weather is hot, and prey is available all year long. Due to their territorial nature, lions rarely follow the herds of migrating game. Mountain lions belong to a different family of big cats. They don’t hibernate either, but they could migrate according to the migratory patterns of their preferred prey.
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