Lion Anatomy- Paws

Lion Paws have evolved specifically for a lion’s way of life and are as important for survival as say the jaws or any other part of a lions weaponry. The Paws, hiding some of the lions most deadly weapons- the claws. As well as being specially adapted for silent movement.

Lions walk in a digitate fashion, meaning that their foot bones are adapted in such a way that they walk on their toes. As opposed to humans that have a plantigrade motion, meaning we ‘plant’ our whole foot on the ground. Digitate movement has evolved specifically for silent movement and if you look at the foot structure for most predators they will have this bone structure. As an extra adaptation lions have hair in between their toes muffling the sound even more. Lions have five toes on the front foot and four on the back foot. The fifth digit on the front foot is place on the inside of the leg much higher up and is known as the dewclaw. This is used for extra grip when holding on to prey species.

Claws are among the most deadly weapons a lion possesses. A few of their uses are grabbing and holding prey, climbing and traction.

This image shows how Lion claws are sheathed. The distal phalanx pivots on the middle phalanx when the flexor tendon is contracted, this protractes and unsheathes the claw.

A common thought is that lion claws are retractable, this is in fact wrong they are protractible. Meaning that at rest the claws are sheathed, when the animal flexes certain muscles in the foot the claws are forced out. If they were retractable the lion would have to walk around tensing to keep his claws sheathed.

The main reason the claws are kept sheathed is to protect them form everyday wear and tear, keeping them sharp. If you look at a domestic dog’s claws which are non ‘retractable’ they are very blunt in comparison to a domestic cat’s claws.

Lions and other cats have to work on keeping their claws sharp and strong, you will often see domestic cats ‘pawing’ or ‘kneading’ objects such as your favorite couch. This behaviour is also necessary in lions, and you will often see them doing this against tree trunks. This is done for two reasons. Firstly to sharpen the claws, this is really more cleaning than sharpening, as the claws grow the keratin outer layer is shed and needs to be constantly removed from the claw. The second reason is to mark territory, lions have interdigital scent glands in between their toes. This means by stretching out the toes the scent is released onto whatever they happen to scratching this is usually done on a tree.

This little guy at only a few weeks old can still give you a very nasty scratch.

Lion paws are essential to a lion and what they do, they have evolved specifically for this awesome apex predator. Without this specially designed equipment they would struggle to hunt and fit into their niche in nature.

About danielpeel

Daniel Peel I was born in Zimbabwe, and grew up on a cattle farm. I then moved to England to complete my secondary education, after which I moved back to Africa to become a field guide, in South Africa. I have two years experience working as a trails guide, in the Klaserie Private nature reserve, in the Lowveld. Leading guided walks as well as game drives in a big five area. I have completed a field guides training course at Entabeni Nature guides training. As well as working in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, with Shearwater Elephant Back Safari. I am also a keen wildlife photographer and even sell my photographs on stock photo websites. My qualifications include: -FGASA level 2 -FGASA trails guide -First Aid(level 2) -Advanced rifle handling (ARH) -SEASETA or Poslec rifle compency -Cybertracker level 1 -Snake handling -Entabeni survival training I am passionate about the african bush and am eager and enthusiastic about sharing my knowledge and experiences as well as intrepreting animal behaviour and tracks and signs to international guests. As a walking guide the focus is more on the things often over looked in the bush, such as the tracks and signs of animals, trees and flowers, birds as well as the dangerous game. Which is also one of my passions, viewing dangerous game on foot. I also really support conservation, being a member of the Save the Rhino program.
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