What Do Lions Eat? Complete List Of What Lions Prey On, A Guide


Lions are renowned for being carnivores, they’re both powerful, and ferocious apex predators, and they eat just about anything they can hunt and kill. But what would that be exactly? What do lions predate on?

In this article, we’re going to answer the question of what do lions eat, we’ll list the most common animals that lions eat, both large and small, and give some details around why, how, and when Lions prey on these animals.

But let’s start with a brief summary answer and a quick list as to the animals that lions eat, then we’ll get into more details…

What do lions eat? Lions are carnivores, and apex predators, and will mainly eat small animals when food is scarce. But lions will usually predate a number of larger land-based animals that have a mass of 50-300 kg, such as… 

  • Antelopes
  • Buffaloes
  • Crocodiles
  • Giraffes
  • hippopotamus
  • Pigs
  • Rhinoceros
  • Wild hogs
  • Wildebeast
  • Zebras

Now we’ve seen the quick list of the larger animals, let’s dive a little deeper into the individual animals themselves and why lions will hunt them, then move on to the smaller animals.

What do lions eat?

The lion, as a carnivore, is an animal that will only eat the meat and flesh of other animals, which is called the “prey”.

Lions eat – a lot! and they have a very diverse diet, especially in the wild. Both a lion and a lioness can eat up to 15% of their own body weight in just one meal – that’s how much they eat.

When comparing the meal of a lion (male) based on that of your average-sized house cat, it’s the equivalent of 70 cans of cat food. Around 10 to 25 pounds per day, (roughly 4.5 to 11 kg).

Another perhaps equally interesting fact about a lion – and what they eat, is that they’re greedy animals…

Lions are so greedy that they may even hunt for food when they don’t feel hungry. Even if they’re already feeding on a hunted prey and another animal should get too close.

Lions would still find the time and energy to take it down as well. This is done because of the need for a lot of food, and their eagerness to ensure they have sufficient quantities when it comes to their daily requirements.

Lions are apex predators

Nature has made lions an apex predator, which means it, of course, hunt most other animals, and while there are animals that the lion would be wary of, such as adult elephants and other lions, these animals mostly have no desire or need to fight with or eat lions.

An apex predator takes up the highest rank in a food web, which makes them the famous animal that we call “The king of the jungle”.

The full list of animals that lions eat

Lions eat any animals they can prey on. But then they tend to hunt down some of their favorite animals like

  • Antelopes
  • Buffaloes
  • Crocodiles
  • Giraffes
  • Hippopotamus
  • Pigs
  • Rhinoceros
  • Wild hogs
  • Wildebeests
  • Zebras

When it comes to small animals, Lions occasionally, especially when its winter and animals get into hibernation, they tend to eat small prey like:-

  • Tortoises
  • Lizards
  • Hares
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Mice
  • Birds

Although they eat pretty much anything they can prey on, lions mostly hunt down animals that have a mass of 50 to 300 kg.

They also do not hesitate to hunt the young ones of larger animals like elephants and rhinos.

They also feed on the carrion and kills made by other animals. In fact, lions in the wild, especially during autumn and winter get more than half of their food through scavenging.

And with scavenging, lions will happily look to steal food from other animals and even eat the leftovers they find.

This means that when some animals kill an animal for themselves, a lion often scares these animals away from the prey, so the lions can eat it themselves. For this lions use simple bullying tactics against the other animals that are eating to give up on their prey. 

But this bullying game doesn’t always work with animals like Hyenas. Hyenas are pack animals, they live in groups called clans, so when the number of hyenas is more than the lions could suitably scare away, the hyenas get to keep their food.

But when the hyena clan is fewer in numbers, nothing can match the power of lions, which is another reason why it’s called “The king of the jungle”. 

That’s not all, we humans are afraid of lions because of their sheer speed and power. And with good reason, unlike other apex predators like wolf packs and what wolves eat, these carnivores will hunt and eat humans.

When taking the gender of lions into account it’s mostly males that would tend to eat humans.

To give you some additional background on this, a well-known case in 1898 called the “Tsayo man-eaters” is where 28 railway construction workers were attacked and killed by only a single pair of lions over a period of 9 months. 

a pride of lions feeds
a pride of lions feeds

Lions are obligate carnivores

As obligate carnivores, this means that around 70% of their diet consists of meat. When taking a lion’s system, its body fails to produce all the amino acids the body needs for survival. So to satisfy this nutritional requirement needed for their survival, lions are bound to eat meat and flesh. This is exactly what makes them carnivores.

Some might say that lions eat vegetation, in cases where food is scarce, this may be true. But in real terms, lions do not have the ability to digest any vegetation.

This is because the digestive system of lions is created in a way to digest only meat and flesh. In more scientific terms, a lion’s bodily system lacks the necessary enzymes to digest vegetation and plant matters.

Water in a lions diet

When it comes to water in a lion’s diet, lions don’t normally take on much water. But as a strategy, lions prefer to live near waterways like rivers, streams, and waterholes.

This is not necessarily because they’re thirsty, but mainly to hunt down animals that will come to these locations to drink water – which makes sense.

Lions will commonly, and patiently wait on the fringes of water holes, for animals to come and they’ll closely watch the moves of every animal to plan the best way to hunt. Lions will stalk, and ambush into even the deepest areas of water to hunt animals.

How much lions eat

On average it’s estimated that a lion in the wild can eat up to 10 to 25 pounds per day, which is about 4.5 to 11 kg.

When food is abundant, lions expand their diet. In such cases, a male lion can eat up to 43 kg of meat in a day, where a lioness can eat up to 25 kg for a day. 

While that’s the case in the wild, in captivity like in Zoo’s the average amount of food a lion will eat in a day is 8 pounds for a male, (around 3.6 kg), whereas a lioness can eat up to around 6 pounds (around 2.7 kg). 

How often lions eat

When looking at how often lions eat, lions need to eat at least one sizeable meal pretty much every day. In cases where they have to go without food, they can survive – even up to around 14 days – but they’ll become weaker as time goes on.

Where and when do lions eat?

Like most animals that hunt, lions generally tend to eat their prey at the same place as they brought the animal down.

But when they hunt near water, they’ll often drag their prey away from the main watering hole area to eat it. And if they can’t finish the meal, they’ll often look to hide it to finish it later when they feel hungry.

In summer when lions hunt, they’re seen to drag the prey into some shade, to make eating more comfortable in hot, dry weather.

Lions often hunt at night … or dusk, but of course, they can be active and hunt during the day too.

Much like wolves, there’s a definite hierarchy to mealtimes. After the hunt, the male lion is given the privilege of rank – and will be the first to start the meal. Soon after, the lioness will follow. They will then be joined by the cubs and the older members of the family.

male lions eat first
male lions eat first

Do lions eat their own and why

Although it may sound strange and cannibalistic, yes lions sometimes eat their own species – meaning other lions.

Lions have been known to eat their own cubs. While nobody really knows the answer to why lions do this, it’s believed they eat their cubs to impregnate the lioness.

Some also report that lions do this to take control of another territory. Eating a cub from another territory is a way to stake the claim on the territory and the females, or at the very least helping reduce the numbers that may become a large, rival pride of lions.

How lions hunt their prey

Lions can, and do in fact hunt alone, but hunting with their group (called a pride) hunting becomes far easier. When hunting in groups, lions plan very strategically and take positions – rather like the pieces in chess would line up for a checkmate move.

This involves a good amount of time, stalking, and waiting. Usually, lions stalk their prey to observe the movement and figure out how best to attack. 

But even in cases where stalking is not possible, lions will ambush directly into the prey and start attacking. Ambushing or running quickly towards the prey will strategically direct the prey to run towards other directions where other lions of the pride may be positioned, or into brushland or scrub areas. in which they might get hampered, or trapped. So, hunting as a group within a pride makes lion hunting easier.

Smaller animals are hunted usually by tripping their legs, ankles, and feet from under them while they try to escape, which makes the animal stumble and slow up, making it easy to catch them.

For larger animals, lions often jump on the back of the animal, trying to bring them down to attack.

However, even if the hunt is performed as a group, it’s the male lions who get the chance to feed first, then followed by the lioness and the cubs and older ones as before. 

So unfortunately when it’s a smaller prey it’s mostly the male and female lions who get to eat, the other lions in the price may have to just walk away and await the next – hopefully larger prey.

As shocking it may seem, it’s usually observed that the lioness or the female lions are the ones who do most of the hunting. But despite this, the tradition continues, and it’s still the male lion who’s the one that gets to dine on the spoils first.

What eats a lion?

Despite being apex predators lions sometimes do end up being prey to other animals. This mostly happens with extremely weak, sick, and old lions – as they’re easy to kill for other animals, an example of this would be a pack of Hyenas. 

Likewise, even the newborns and cubs who are vulnerable and weak are eaten by some predators. Animals like cheetahs and hyenas are known for stealing and eating lion cubs – if and when the opportunity arises.

Learning resources

Take a look at these similar articles:

Do lions eat Giraffes

Do lions live in the Jungle

Can tigers mate with lions

Video Resources

Here’s a video about what lions eat … starting with what their favorite meat is!

To close…

We hope this has been useful in understanding what lions eat on a daily basis. Obviously what they hunt depends largely on what is available and what they happen across. But at least you know now what animals they do prey on.

This content has been checked and verified by a qualified veterinary practitioner. The article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

Recent Posts

error: Content is protected!