- Both lions and bears are top predators, but they live in very different habitats.
- Bears are bigger than lions. However, the Lions have a speed advantage.
- Both are masters in their fields. The distance between them keeps them from fighting.
Considering that they tend to be the top predators in their respective environments, it only makes sense to see how the showdown between bears and lions actually plays out. One is eight omnivores, spread across four different continents. The other is revered for dominating the environment, earning him the title “King of the Jungle.” Since lions only live in large swathes of Africa and India, they are unlikely to encounter bears, so there is no clear evidence of who wins in a bear-lion fight.
Although there’s no evidence of bears and lions fighting, we can use what we know about both animals to figure out who would win in a hypothetical showdown. We’ll start with the raw data and then move on to the strengths and weaknesses of each animal.
|Average weight||Varies by species, 150 – 1,300 lbs||420 lbs|
|Length (without tail)||Varies by species, 5 – 9 feet||6 – 6.8 feet|
|Habitat||Forests, mountains, tundra, deserts and grasslands||forest, prairie, bush|
|life||20 – 25 years old||15 years|
|speed||25 – 35 mph||50 mph|
|foot||4 feet, 20 toes, 20 claws||4 feet, 18 toes, 18 claws|
|bite force||975 psi||650 psi|
Lion vs. Bear: Hunting Tips
Top predators have no natural enemies by definition, but how they hunt can help us understand how they position themselves in battle with one another. Lions have an obvious advantage because they are obligatory carnivores, in other words they cannot survive without the nutrients of a meat diet, and they actually lack the ability to properly digest certain plant matter. But while lions’ physiology is adapted to a hunting lifestyle, they are actually pack hunters — and the fact that they rely on their companions’ hunting strategies could put a lone lion at a disadvantage when fighting a bear.
Bears, by contrast, are omnivores. In fact, only about 30 percent of the average bear’s diet comes from meat. Still, many species of bears hunt powerful prey such as elk and deer. They are likely to be found digging around anthills or foraging for fruit and vegetables to graze. Still, the combination of long gait and swipe will often render the prey unconscious, and you can rest assured that this is a fearsome predator.
Lion and Bear: Size and Weight
Sheer size can make a big difference in a fight, both in the animal kingdom and in the ring. Unfortunately for the lion, it is beaten by most bears in terms of weight and length. Bears weigh, on average, twice or more that of lions of the same age, giving bears a huge advantage over lions in absorbing blows.
But just as important is the reach of each creature. Unfortunately for the lions, this is another example of the bears clearly winning. Not only are bears typically one and a half times the size of lions, but they are also more comfortable standing and walking on their hind legs for extended periods of time. This will make it difficult for the lion to reach without hitting the top of its head.
Lion vs. Bear: Speed
With a top speed of around 50 miles per hour, a lion can outrun any bear in a walking race. While top speed isn’t as important in a brawl, speed and agility do make it easier for a lion to move across a field and beat a bear. The real question is how well that speed works. While lions have a much higher top speed than bears, they cannot maintain this speed for long. The extra mobility might help the lion dodge some of the bear’s claw attacks, but it would have been necessary given its relatively small mass.
Lion vs. Bear: Natural Weapons
Both lions and bears rely on powerful claws to subdue their prey, and huge jaws for the final blow and drag—but there are some important differences between them. Bears have teeth that can apply more pressure when biting the neck of their prey, but lions have sharper and longer teeth — allowing them to bite deeper into their prey without having to apply as much pressure. Additionally, feline teeth are uniquely suited to piercing the spinal cord of prey. Since bears are omnivores, they don’t have highly specialized teeth and rely entirely on the force of their bite to get the job done. In either case, a well-placed bite could mean the end of the road for one of these animals.
Lion and bear claws are likewise the difference between lethal specialization and a more generic design. Bears use their claws to climb trees, catch salmon out of the water and dig around for insects. However, if the bear attacks you, it will be the force of the blow and the strength of the claws that will do the damage. Lions, by contrast, have retractable, hooked claws that both provide traction while running and hold prey as they bite.
Lion vs. Bear: Showdown
In a head-to-head fight, bet on the bear in your favor. The animal’s sheer size and strength ensured that lions would have great difficulty even getting close enough to do any harm — and it would take a lot of time to completely paralyze one of the larger bear species like the grizzly. The sheer reach of the bear makes it difficult for the lion to get close, while his relatively small size will ensure he has little margin for error.
Lions may do better in environments where they can hunt and stalk prey from great distances. Lions are traditionally stealthy hunters who do not approach their prey until they are within about a hundred feet. If the lion can catch the bear’s drop and make sure to deliver the killing blow quickly, he might be able to win. But even that is questionable. Bears are capable stealthy hunters in their own right and have been known to track hunters up to 300 feet.
Both bears and lions deserve respect for their strength, but both are fascinating creatures from which we can learn a lot. Luckily, they live on opposite sides of the world, so it’s unlikely we’ll see them face off. They are all masters in their respective fields, and there is no need to challenge each other.
- Grizzlies If you want to learn more about these fearsome animals, check out this article.
- The lion The lion is known as the king of the jungle, click here to find out why.
- What is the bite force of a grizzly bear? How strong is a grizzly bear’s bite? Find it here.
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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