Zoologists since the 1800s have pondered the purpose of the lion's mane, conjecturing that the mop either serves to defend against competitors' claws and teeth or to attract a female. Now the first experimental study to consider the question suggests a mane's condition advertises high-quality mates to picky females and wards off male adversaries.
Craig Packer and Peyton M. West of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis–St. Paul examined photographs of 568 male lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park taken since 1964. They assessed the shade and length of manes and compared these qualities with long-term demographic and behavioral records of each lion.
The historical data suggest that males with short, light manes are less healthy and inferior fighters when compa