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Lion vs. Bear: Appearance, Behavior & More

The main differences between lions and bears are their appearance and diversity. There is only one extant species of lion while there are eight species of bear around the world. Bears vary in shape and size, with some species being smaller than lions, while others are much larger. Bears are stocky, while lions are muscular and have a usual feline body shape.

Lions and bears aren’t closely related but they belong to the same order, Carnivora. Because of this, there are some similarities between them.

bears and Lions are completely different animals. No one should have any issues telling them apart. They have entirely different body shapes and are visually distinct from one another.

But do bears and lions ever meet? If so,  who would win in a fight?

In this article, we’ll answer these questions and take a closer look at the differences and similarities between lions and bears. 

Lion vs. Bear: An Overview

Lions and bears are inherently different from one another. They differ a lot both physically and in behavior. Bears are way more diverse than lions, with eight distinct species spreading across the world. They are only distantly related, and taxonomically they belong to the same order.

Side-by-Side Comparison

There are both differences and similarities between bears and lions. This table illustrates them.

Height (Shoulder)41–50 in28–63 in
Length (Without Tail)5 ft 3 in – 6 ft 10 in3 ft 3 in – 9 ft 10 in
Weight240–500 lbs55–1500 lbs
DistributionSub-Saharan Africa and Gujarat, India.North America, South America, Asia, and Europe.
HabitatGrasslands, savannahs, open woodlands and forests, deserts, around rivers, swamps, and wetlands.Generally forests, but some species seasonally inhabit tundras and grasslands.Polar bears live on ice sheets and barren landscapes across the arctic circle.
DietCarnivoreOmnivorous, although some species are almost entirely herbivorous or carnivorous.
Bite force1000 PSI1200 PSI (Polar Bears)
Lifespan11–15 years in the wild10–25 years in the wild (depends on species)

Bears are much more diverse than lions. They have a wider distribution and thrive in many different climates. There’s also more variety in the size and diet of the different bear species when compared to lions.

Lion vs. Bear: An Overview - 1

Lion vs. Bear: Taxonomy and Classification

Lions and bears are related, but their relation is distant. While lions are feliforms (cat-like animals), bears are caniforms (dog-like animals).

Here’s an overview of their taxonomy and classification:

SubfamilyPantherinaeDepends on the species.
GenusPantheraDepends on the species.
SpeciesPanthera leoDepends on the species.

While they are both mammals, lions and bears are exceedingly different from one another. They are both members of the Carnivora order, but they aren’t related further than that point.

The most well-known species of bear, such as the polar, black, brown, or grizzly, are all closely related to one another. They are all members of the Ursidae subfamily and Ursus genus.

Differences Between Lions and Bears

The main differences between lions and bears are their appearance, diet, and social behavior. Bears are bulky and have stockier builds, while lions have a more agile build, specific to felines. While ears are solitary animals,  lions are exceedingly social, especially for felines. Lions have simpler diets than omnivorous bears.

There are many differences between lions and bears. Physically they are radically different from each other. They also differ in behavior.

Physical Differences 

Lion vs. Bear Physical Differences

You can easily tell lions and bears apart by looking at them. Here are their main physical differences:

  1. Size
  2. Build
  3. Color


Lions are one of the largest felines, competing for the top spot with tigers. Bears vary a lot more in size, with some species like the Sun bear being fairly small, while Polar bears are giants.

Black bears are, on average, about the same size as lionesses, although their size varies. Adult male black bears usually weigh anywhere between 125 and 550 pounds, with females being much lighter.[1]

Brown bears and grizzlies also vary a lot in size, but they are generally larger. Coastal brown bears are heavier than their inland counterparts, which usually weigh about as much as lions.[2]

Brown bears can get a lot larger and heavier than lions.

Polar bears are the largest species of bears. Adults are huge with males weighing between 770 and 1500 pounds and females between 330 and 550 pounds. Polar bears are much larger than lions, on average.


Bears and lions, or felines in general, have fundamentally different builds and body shapes. Their bodies are built to serve different functions and they have vastly different appearances.

Lions are strong, broad-chested felines. These cats are muscular yet they still look agile and slender. Their heads are rounded and their legs are long but powerful. They also have long tails with a tuft at the tip.

Lions are exceedingly lean, and 58.8% of their body weight is pure muscle. The highest percentage of any mammal.[3]

Bears have a robust build. They are generally bulky, carrying a lot of weight. Bears have thick bones that are able to support their weight. Their legs are straighter and shorter than those of lions and other big cats. They put most of their weight on the back legs.[4]

Compared to lions, bears have longer snouts and larger heads. While bears have non-retractable claws that are longer on their forelimbs, lions are retractable, a trait specific to felines.

Lion vs. Bear Build


When it comes to coating color bears come in more varieties than lions. Across the eight bear species, a spectrum of colors can be observed, ranging from white to brown or black.

The coat colors of lions are nowhere near as varied. Lions’ coats are mainly a different shade of tan, although most of them come in a light buff color.

Here is a list of lion color shades:

  • Light buff or silverish color
  • Golden
  • Orange-brown
  • Dark brown

Lions in cooler climates and with higher testosterone tend to be a darker shade.

Bear colors are different according to species, age, and region:

  • Polar bears have an off-white color.
  • Brown bears can be anything from blonde to brown to black.
  • Black bears are similarly varied.

Both lions and bears can be white under the right circumstances. Black bears with albinism have been observed, and a sizable population of leucistic white lions can be found in Timbavati, South Africa.[5][6]

Behavioral Differences

Lion vs. Bear Behavioral Differences - 1

Bears and lions have distinct behaviors:

  • Bears are omnivores and lions are carnivores.
  • Bears are largely solitary animals, while lions live in groups.
  • Lionesses can cooperate in raising their cubs, while female bears raise them without help.
  • Lions don’t hibernate, while many bears do.
  • Lions always kill their prey before eating, while bears may maul it while it’s still alive.[7]
  • Bears get most of their food by foraging and stealing it from other animals, while lions generally hunt for it.
  • Bears can balance on their back legs, stand upright, and even sit as humans do, while lions can’t.

Similarities Between Lions and Bears

In spite of their differences, bears and lions also have many similarities. They both hunt other animals and are powerful predators. Females are the ones that raise the cubs. Sexual dimorphism is clear in both animals, as male bears and lions are considerably larger than females.

Lions and bears may be distantly related but are still similar in many ways, both physically and in behavior.

Physical Similarities

Lion vs. Bear Physical Similarities

Physically there aren’t many similarities between bears and lion species, as they are vastly different. Both animals are physically strong and have powerful bites. They are both quadrupeds, but their moving style is different.

Contrary to popular belief, bears aren’t slow. Similar to lions, they can run at speeds up to  30 mph over short distances.[8]

Behavioral Similarities

While physically there aren’t many similarities between lions and bears, they resemble each other a bit more in behavior:

  • Bears and lions are powerful hunters.
  • They scavenge for some of their food.
  • Males will fight over territory.
  • Females raise the cubs alone (although male lions are present, they don’t “help”).
  • They need to eat large amounts of food to sustain themselves.

Do Lions and Bears Ever Meet?

Lions and bears don’t meet in the wild. They can’t meet in the wild because no bear species or lion population share the same habitats today. In the past, they were, as recently as a couple of hundred years ago. The now-extinct Atlas bear and the Barbary lion used to share a range in northwestern Africa. Sloth bears and Asiatic lions may have also met in the past.

Today lions and bears don’t share the same ranges. They can’t meet in the wild today, but they could’ve met in the past.

In the Atlas mountains of northwestern Africa, there used to live a brown bear subspecies called the Atlas or African bear. This bear subspecies lived around the Barbary lion, a type of lion native to North Africa.

The decline of the Atlas bear population started when the Roman Empire was still around. Since then they slowly went extinct. The last recorded Atlas bear was killed in Morroco in 1870.[9]

Lions also used to be common across the Middle East where they shared ranges with local brown bear populations.

In India, Asiatic lions used to share their range with Sloth bears. Today Asiatic lions are limited to a small population in Gujarat, and the Sloth bear’s range has diminished substantially. They don’t inhabit the same areas anymore.

Do Lions and Bears Ever Meet

Lion vs. Bear: Who Would Win in a Fight?

In a fight between a lion and a bear, any one of them could be the winner. Bears are much more varied than lions, so the larger amongst them will probably win. Any male polar bear could defeat a lion. Brown bears also have good chances of winning, although smaller individuals would probably lose.

It’s hard to say who would win in a battle between a lion and a bear. Bears are exceedingly diverse and the result depends on their species and size. Smaller bears like Sun bears will always lose to a lion.

Polar bears are larger and stronger than lions. They are also the most predatory bear species, so they have the tools necessary to win.

Brown bears and lions are on more equal footing. Average brown bears can hold their own against a lion, but larger individuals would surely win. Smaller-than-average bears would probably lose to the more viscous lion.

Black bears won’t generally win a fight against a lion. They are usually too small. Only the largest individual may manage to overpower a lion.

Lions are obligate carnivores and some of the most effective predators in the world. They are much more viscous and aggressive than most bears and this would give them an edge in combat.


The main differences between lions and bears are in their builds and behavior. Lions are muscular and agile felines that are exceptionally social animals. Bears are stocky, robust animals that have a solitary lifestyle. Both are powerful hunters, that regularly steal food from smaller species. A fight between a lion and a bear could go either way. If the bear is larger it’s probably going to win, but the aggressivity of the lion may still help it win.

About Codrin Frunzete

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