Lion vs Bear: The five key differences

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 21, 2022
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Key Points

  • Lions and bears are both apex predators but they live in vastly different habitats.
  • Bears are larger than lions. However, lions have a speed advantage.
  • Both are masters of their domains. The distance between them keeps them from coming to blows.

Considering that they tend to be the apex predators in their respective environments, it only makes sense to want to see how a match-up between a bear and a lion would actually play out. One constitutes eight species of omnivores that are found on four separate continents. The other is respected so much for dominating its environment that it’s earned the title of “King of the Jungle”. Since lions are only found in stretches of Africa and India where they’re unlikely to encounter bears, there’s no definitive proof of who would win in a fight between a bear and a lion.

Despite having no evidence of fights between bears and lions, 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 stats and then move on to a look at each animal’s strengths and weaknesses.

BearsLions
Average WeightVaries by species, 150 – 1,300 lbs420 lbs
Length (without tail)Varies by species, 5 – 9 ft6 – 6.8 ft
Habitatforests, mountains, tundra, deserts, and grasslandsforests, grasslands, brush
Lifespan20 – 25 years15 years
Speed25 – 35 MPH50 MPH
Feet4 feet, 20 toes, 20 claws4 feet, 18 toes, 18 claws
Bite Force975 PSI650 PSI

Lion vs Bear: Hunting Skills

By definition, apex predators have no natural predators, but how they hunt can help us understand how they’d square off in a battle with one another. Lions have one apparent advantage in the fact that they’re obligatory carnivores, which is another way of saying that they can’t survive without the nutrients of a meat diet, and they actually lack the ability to properly digest some plant matter. But while the physiology of the lion has adapted to a hunting lifestyle, they’re actually group hunters — and the fact that they rely on companions for their hunting tactics could put a single lion at a disadvantage when fighting a bear.

Bears, by contrast, are omnivores. In fact, only about 30% of the average bear’s diet comes from meat. Despite that, many species of bear are capable of taking down powerful prey like elk and deer. They’re just as likely to be found digging around anthills or foraging for fruits and vegetables to graze on. Despite this, the combination of a sizable gait and a swipe that can generally leave prey unconscious, and you can be assured this is a predator to fear.

Lion vs Bear : Size and Weight

Sheer size can have a big impact in a fight, and that’s as true in the animal kingdom as it is in the ring. Unfortunately for the lion, it’s beaten out in terms of weight and length by most species of bear. The average bear can weigh double or more than a comparably aged lion, and that gives the bear a huge advantage over the lion in sheer terms of absorbing blows.

But just as important is the amount of reach each creature has. Unfortunately for the lion, this is another instance where the bear clearly wins out. Not only are bears often one and a half times the size of lions, but they’re also significantly more comfortable standing and walking on their hind legs for extended periods of time. That would make it hard for a lion to even get within reach without getting a smack to the top of the head.

Lion vs Bear : Speed

With a top speed of roughly 50 miles per hour, lions can leave any bear in the dust in terms of a foot race. And while top speed won’t matter much in the middle of a brawl, that speed and dexterity do make it easier for the lion to navigate the battlefield and wear down the bear. The real question is how effective that speed is going to be. While lions have a much higher top speed than bears, they aren’t capable of maintaining that speed for extended periods of time. The extra dexterity might help a lion elude some swipes from the claws of the bear, but that will be a necessity considering its comparatively smaller body mass.

Lion vs Bear: Natural Weapons

Both lions and bears rely on powerful claws to subdue their prey and massive jaws to both deliver the finishing blow and drag their prey around — but there are some important distinctions between them. The teeth of a bear can apply significantly more pressure when locked on the neck of prey, but a lion’s teeth are both sharper and longer — and that allows them to sink more deeply into their prey without having to apply as much pressure. Moreover, feline teeth are specifically situated to pierce the spinal cord of their prey. Since bears are omnivorous, they don’t have the same highly specialized teeth and instead rely on the sheer force of their bite to get the job done. In either case, a well positioned bite could spell the end of the road for one of these animals.

The claws of lions and bears are similarly the difference between lethal specialization and more general purpose design. Bears use their claws for climbing trees, snatching salmon out of water, and digging around for insects. But if a bear attacks you, it will be the force of the blow as much as the claws that cause damage. By contrast, the retractable and hook-like claws of the lion are designed to both give them traction with running and to hold on to their prey as they sink their fangs in.

Lion vs Bear : The Showdown

In a head-to-head fight, it would be in your benefit to bet on the bear. The sheer size and power of this animal ensures that the lion would have great difficulty even getting close enough to do any damage — and it would take a lot to properly disable one of the bigger bear species like the grizzly. The sheer reach of the bear would make it hard for the lion to get close, and his relatively smaller frame would ensure that he has little margin for error.

The lion might fare better in an environment where he can hunt and stalk his prey from afar. Lions are traditionally stealth hunters who don’t close in on their prey until they’re within about a hundred feet. If a lion could get the drop on a bear and make sure to deliver the killing blow quickly, he might be able to earn a win. But even that is questionable. Bears are capable stealth hunters in their own right and have been known to trail hunters as closely as 300 feet.

The power of both the bear and the lion are worthy of respect, but they’re fascinating creatures we could stand to learn a lot from. Fortunately, they live on opposite sides of the world so we are unlikely to see them face off. They are both masters of their domains and there is no need for them to challenge each other.

Up Next…

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is a lion or bear more dangerous?

While the fight between a lion or a bear may be purely hypothetical, there’s little question about which animal is more dangerous to humans. Roughly 200 people are estimated to have been killed by lions each year. Annual bear attacks average around 40 a year, and only a fraction of those result in death.

Would a lion beat a bear?

The number of variables to consider make it hard to determine for certain which animal would win in a fight, but most species of bear have a serious weight and height advantage over lions. It’s a strength that any lion would have difficulty overcoming.

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