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Why Do Lions Roar?

Updated on April 6, 2019
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Lions Roar Louder than Lawn Mowers

There is nothing more intimidating and down-right frightening than listening to a roaring lion. Tigers and bears also top the list of terrifying sounds, still lions head the pack. In some circles they are bested only by the tiger.

Their roar is produced by square-like vocal cords, or folds, which allows vibrating air to pass through at a much louder tone. In fact lions are known to reach 114 decibels equivalent to listening to a gas-powered lawn mower, but the lawn mower is 25 times louder than usual.

The vocal cords of lions cannot be strained like say a human vocal cord. Lions have cords that are so strong they can easily stand up to stretching caused by air moving past and vibrating the cords.



Varied Communication Skills

One roar from a single lion can be heard up to five miles away. The roar accomplishes more than one purpose.

  • To scare off an unwanted visitor or intruder.
  • To warn the pride of danger.
  • To show its power among other male lions in the pride.

Roar of a Majestic African Male Lion

Lions Have Their Own Language

Like humans, both lions and tigers speak with a wide range of frequencies. Lions are thought of as social creatures who can communicate with each other in different ways.

A lion on the hunt goes outside its social communication to a hunter's mentality. It will roar at a group of animals simply to intimidate the animals and cause a panic among the herd. Fleeing animals are more likely to separate opening up the opportunity to pick off a slower or less experienced animal for an easy meal.

Within the pride, according to LionAlert.org: "Lions use different calls when communicating with each other: meows, roars, grunts, moans, growls, snarls, purrs, hums, puffs and woofs. Each sound has a different meaning."

A Lion's Roar and a Baby's Cry - Similar but Different

There are some similarities between a lion’s roar and a baby’s cry. Both have “very loose and gel-like” vocal folds that make irregular vibrations that create rough sounds (low-frequency in the cats, high-pitched in the babies) and draw our attention.

Roughly speaking, lions and babies have the ability to grab our attention by making what are referred to as "irregular vibrations". In lions these sounds are low-frequency, and in babies they are high-pitched. Thus our ears gravitate toward the sounds, but for totally different reasons.

Lions are Not Killing Machines

As terrifying as they are, lions are not the main hunters of the tribe. Females do the lions-share of the hunting. In actuality, lions spend 18-20 hours a day sleeping. Weighing between 300-500 pounds they must use their energy when it is most advantageous for them, to run, pounce, stalk or fight. Sadly, deaths are caused when lions fight one another; the average life-span can be only 10-16 years due to such fights. Compare that to the life-span of lions in captivity and the life- span of the latter can be more than 20 years.

Hunting takes place after dark enabling lions to avoid the hot African sun. Hunting is normally a group effort making solo-hunting a rare occurrence. Since lions cannot run as fast as their prey, they must get closer to an animal to better the odds of taking it down. It is not unheard of for prey that has reached its full speed to simply out-run a lion and escape being taken down and killed.

Lions need to eat 15 pounds of meat per day and if it is in full gorge mode can eat up to 66 pounds in one sitting. The entire tribe shares in the kill although a pecking order is observed with the cubs and weaker lions eating last. The need for a huge amount of meat per day also explains why lions have been observed entering the water to chase down an animal trying to swim its way to freedom. The desire to fill its stomach is indeed strong and unrelenting.


Depleting Numbers

Sadly these majestic animals have decreased in population from 450,000 in the 1940's, to an estimated range between 16,500 and 47,000 in 2002–2004.

For the vast majority, the zoo or wild life refuge provides the best opportunity to hear the roar of these amazing members of the cat family.

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