Sexual success in the Savannah hinges on the mane attraction

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The Independent Online

You have to suffer if you want to be a lion king, according to scientists who have found that male lions burdened with the most sweltering manes are most likely to win a pride of females.

You have to suffer if you want to be a lion king, according to scientists who have found that male lions burdened with the most sweltering manes are most likely to win a pride of females.

A study has found that lions with the darkest manes – which cause the greatest amount of overheating in the baking African sun – are the most successful in terms of attracting mates.

Whether a mane is long and shaggy or short and trim, it seems that its colour is the most alluring feature for a lioness, said researchers from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Lions with long, blond manes have far less luck but have the upper hand when it comes to the midday heat – infrared cameras show that they stay cooler than their darker maned brothers.

When the scientists used dummy lions with different types of manes to test their theory they found that lionesses showed a consistent preference for the blackest manes and male lions were intimidated by the dummies with the longest, darkest manes.

The study, published in the journal Science, could explain why the colour of manes appears to vary to much between lions living in different parts of Africa, said Peyton West, one of the researchers.

"It's been known for a least a century that lions in colder climates have long dark manes. But no one knew why lions had manes or why there was variation within specific populations," Ms West said.

Blood tests showed that males with the darkest manes tended to have the highest levels of testosterone. "Therefore, it isn't surprising that females would prefer darker manes and males would be intimated," Ms West said.

But a dark-maned male is also advertising the fact that he has to cope with the handicap of overheating. "A male with a dark mane may have to work harder to stay cool, behaviourally or physiologically, and is advertising that toughness" Ms West said.

"We didn't find longer-maned males were hotter than those with shorter manes. It appears that, beyond a certain length, there's no further cost to having a mane," she said.

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