Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Panthera

Species: P. leo

Specimen Description

Lions earn their moniker as king of beasts through efficient hunting and a lack of predators. One feature that puts them at the top of the food chain is their claws. The claw on a large lion can be 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) or more from base to tip along the curve. The main function of a lion’s claws is to grab his prey. Sharp and ultra-strong, these claws dig into the skin of prey immediately upon contact. A lion’s claws are specially adapted to be retractable, which means the lion can pull the claws into his paw to prevent them from getting broken when not in use. His claws are essential to his hunting tactics, so it’s important to his survival to keep them in prime hunting shape. Keeping them inside his claws when he’s not grabbing for prey helps keep them safe. They will grow back if broken in most cases, but it’s in the lion’s best interest to keep all his claws strong. Lions tend to play and wrestle with their claws retracted, ensuring they don’t hurt each other or break their claws by accident. The dewclaw on the front limbs is often used as a toothpick. While his claws find protection inside the paws, they’ve also adapted to help prevent breakage when exposed. Lion claws grow from the inside out, shedding the worn outer layers as new, stronger layers grow outward. This also helps keep the claws sharp, with a new point developing as the outer, and perhaps blunter, layer peels off. Retractable claws serve another function besides making sure the claws don’t break: they also help the lion sneak up on prey. Without claws tapping on rocks as he walks or runs, a lion can move nearly soundlessly on his soft paw pads as he sneaks up on his quarry. A lion is well adapted for the sneak attack, and his ability to expose his claws in an instant and only when necessary is part of his plan.