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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week: Week Fifteen

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 23 January 2012

Scary Monkey: Week FourteenWe have discovered a wide range of animal groups thus far in our specimen of the week journey. Now I feel it is time for something big, furry and ferocious. The thing I like the most about these animals is that whilst they are clever, speedy, voracious, and formidable, they tend to prefer to just turn up and throw their weight around in order to get what they want. It’s not that they don’t have the skills, they just prefer not to use them. The specimen of the week this week is:

A lion, doing what lions like to do. (C) E-L Nicholls

A lion, doing what lions like to do. (C) E-L Nicholls

***!!!THE LION!!!***

1) Being large and heavy, lions are primarily pictured lazing about on the grass. However, one group of lions in South Africa has set their sights a little higher. These unusual lions are regularly seen climbing trees and sleeping on branches.


2) The single modern species of lion has been split, by some, into seven subspecies. However, all six African subspecies look the same to the average person and have not been proven using genetics. The Asiatic one on the other hand benefits from confirmed genetic diversity, not to mention continental removal, plus a slimmer figure and generally darker characteristics (as in colouring, not Sith-esque abilities).


Lion skeleton at the Grant Museum of Zoology

Lion skeleton (Panthera leo) at the Grant Museum of Zoology. LDUCZ-Z780

3) Lions once wandered about in Europe. Besides two earlier, fossil species, the modern Asiatic lion once occupied parts of northern Greece. It would most likely have been these lions that the Romans pitted against Christians, gladiators, and whomever else they chose to ‘entertain’ them.


4) The small, isolated population of Asiatic lions holds on in western India in the Gir Forest. There are only about 359 wild Asiatic lions as of 2005, and yet they are only listed as endangered on the IUCN redlist.


Female African lion with cubs. (C) E-L Nicholls

Female African lion with cubs. (C) E-L Nicholls

5) Lion prides usually consist of up to six related adults, plus their young. The females in a family unit frequently synchronise their reproduction and then cross-suckle their cubs.


Come and see our lion skeleton in the museum and see how many other lion skulls you can find dotted around the wall cases…


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