Fear of darkness, the full moon and the nocturnal ecology of African lions

Craig Packer, Alexandra Swanson, Dennis Ikanda, Hadas Kushnir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Nocturnal carnivores are widely believed to have played an important role in human evolution, driving the need for night-time shelter, the control of fire and our innate fear of darkness. However, no empirical data are available on the effects of darkness on the risks of predation in humans. We performed an extensive analysis of predatory behavior across the lunar cycle on the largest dataset of lion attacks ever assembled and found that African lions are as sensitive to moonlight when hunting humans as when hunting herbivores and that lions are most dangerous to humans when the moon is faint or below the horizon. At night, people are most active between dusk and 10:00 pm, thus most lion attacks occur in the first weeks following the full moon (when the moon rises at least an hour after sunset). Consequently, the full moon is a reliable indicator of impending danger, perhaps helping to explain why the full moon has been the subject of so many myths and misconceptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22285
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2011


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