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Lion vs. Gorilla: Differences and Similarities

The main differences between lions and gorillas lie in their appearance and diet. Gorillas are large herbivorous apes, while lions are large carnivorous felines. The apes are more diverse than lions with two extant species. There are also similarities between the two species. They are both inherently social and the group is central to their lifestyle.

Physically, lions and gorillas are fundamentally distinct from one another. It’s almost impossible to mistake one for the other, as the differences between great apes and felines are obvious.

Gorillas and lions aren’t related. Even though they are both mammals, they don’t even belong to the same order. Most of their similarities stem from their social behavior.

But do lions and gorillas ever meet in the wild? Which one is stronger, and who would win in a fight?

Throughout this article, we’ll answer these questions and more. Let’s discuss the differences and similarities between lions and gorillas.

Lion vs. Gorilla: An Overview

Lions and gorillas are almost entirely different from one another. Physically you won’t find many similarities between the two. Their behavior is a bit more similar, mainly due to their complex social lifestyles. Lions and gorillas aren’t related to each other. Taxonomically, they belong to the same class but to different orders.

Side-by-Side Comparison

While lions and gorillas aren’t related, they still share some common traits. They are large animals with surprisingly similar social behavior.

Here’s a quick comparison of the two:

Number of SpeciesOneTwo
Body TypeFelineApe
Length or Height5 ft 3 in –  6 ft 10 in4 ft 1 in –  5 ft 11 in 
Weight240–500 lbs128–500 lbs
DistributionSub-Saharan Africa and Gujarat, IndiaCentral Africa
HabitatGrasslands, savannahs, open woodlands and forests, deserts, around rivers, swamps, and wetlands.Tropical forests of Central Africa, lowlands forests, montane and sub-montane forests, swamp forests, and swamps.
Lifespan11–15 years in the wild30–40 years in the wild
Conservation StatusVulnerableCritically Endangered

Lions and gorillas may be similar in size, but their body types are inherently different. 

Gorillas are more diverse than lions, with two species. Their habitats, diets, and lifespans are also different.

Lion vs. Gorilla An Overview

Lion vs. Gorilla: Taxonomy and Classification

Lions and gorillas aren’t related. They are both mammals but otherwise, they are different. Gorillas are great apes like chimpanzees or humans, while lions are big cats.

Here’s an overview of their taxonomy and classification of lions and gorillas:

SpeciesPanthera leoGorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei

The greatest similarity in the classification of lions and gorillas is their class. Both of them are mammals. They belong to different orders, lions are in the order Carnivora, while gorillas are in the order Primates.

Both animals are also divided into some subspecies. While lions are divided into Northern and Southern lions, there are four recognized subspecies of gorilla:

  • Gorilla gorilla gorilla (Western lowland gorilla)
  • Gorilla gorilla diehli (Cross River gorilla)
  • Gorilla beringei beringei (The mountain gorilla)
  • Gorilla beringei graueri (Eastern lowland gorilla or Grauer’s gorilla)

Differences Between Lions and Gorillas

The main difference between lions and gorillas are in appearance and diet. Gorillas are large primates that spend their days foraging for food with their hands. Lions are large felines and the apex predators in their environments. They hunt for most of their food by killing large animals. Gorillas spend more time being active than lions.

There are many differences between lions and gorillas. Physically they are fundamentally different animals and don’t really have much in common.

Both animals are social, and the group is central to their lifestyles. They procure their food in entirely different ways.

Physical Differences

Lion vs. Gorilla Physical Differences

Lions and gorillas look different and they can’t be mistaken for one another. Here are some of the main types of differences between them:

  1. Body Type
  2. Colors
  3. Diet

1. Differences in Body Type

Lions and gorillas have completely different body types. Lions have a normal feline body type. They are long, muscular, and agile. Gorillas have the body type of a great ape, with shorter legs, long arms, and they don’t have tails.

While they are both quadrupeds, lions and gorillas walk in different ways. While lions step carefully on their paws like most carnivores, gorillas mainly knuckle-walk.

Gorillas can also walk upright, although they can’t do it for a long time.[1]

Much like humans, gorillas have hands with opposable thumbs and fingernails. This allows them to carry things and hold on to them easier. Lions have paws with claws like most other animals.

Thanks to their hands, gorillas can even use rudimentary tools.[2]

Here are the other differences between lion and gorilla bodies:

  • Gorillas don’t have hair or fur covering their faces, ears, and parts of their chests.
  • Lions have long tails while gorillas don’t have tails.
  • Gorillas’ forelimbs are noticeably longer than their back limbs. For lions, all limbs are close in length.
  • Lions’ teeth are perfect for slashing meat while gorillas have teeth specialized in grinding plants.
  • Gorillas have individual fingers with unique fingerprints, much like humans.[3] Lions can instead be identified by their whiskers.

2. Colors

Lions and gorillas also have different hair or fur colors. While their shades vary, there is no overlap in the colors of the two animals.

Lion coats are generally a light buff or tan color. here are other colors lions can display:

  • Silverish
  • Golden
  • Orange-brown
  • Dark brown

Lions in cooler climates and with higher testosterone are darker and may have black manes.[4]

Gorillas are usually dark in color or completely black. Male gorillas have silverish hair on their backs which is what gives them the name, “Silverback gorillas”. Some gorillas are brown and have reddish foreheads.

There are no black lions, although populations of white individuals exist.

Lion vs. Gorilla Colors - 1

3. Diet

Lions and gorillas have different diets. Lions are carnivores so they need to eat meat to survive and stay healthy. Gorillas are herbivores and they consume leaves, shoots, and other plant materials.

While lions eat some grasses every now and then, they can’t effectively digest plant materials. Eating vegetation doesn’t provide any nutritional value for them.

Gorillas are herbivores. They generally eat foliage such as leaves, stems, and shoots but they also enjoy fruits when they can find them.  Some gorillas eat insects such as termites and ants.

While they are usually considered herbivores, gorillas can digest meat without any issues. Captive gorillas accept both raw and cooked meat in their diets, and they may also eat some in the wild.[5]

lion eating meat

Behavioral Differences

Lions and gorillas behave differently in many situations:

  • Lions usually hunt for their food. Gorillas forage.
  • Gorillas generally live in tropical and subtropical forests, while lions prefer open areas.
  • Lions can spend around 20 hours a day resting.[6] Gorillas sleep for about 12 hours.[7]
  • While lionesses are the foundation of a pride, a group of female gorillas disperses without a male.[8]
  • Young male lions are usually the only ones that leave the group when they reach maturity. For gorillas, both males and females tend to emigrate to other groups.
  • Gorillas build a nest on the ground every night. Lions sleep directly on the ground.
  • Gorillas are diurnal while lions are mostly nocturnal or crepuscular.[9]

Similarities Between Lions and Gorillas

There are some similarities between lions and gorillas. While physically they don’t have much in common, when it comes to social behavior, they are surprisingly similar. Group life is central to the life of both.

Physical Similarities

There aren’t many physical similarities between lions and gorillas. They look different from one another and it’s unlikely that anyone could mix them up.

Both lions and gorillas are large and strong animals. While female gorillas are generally a bit smaller than lionesses, male gorillas and lions are usually about the same size.

These two animals are strong. Male lions and silverbacks (adult male gorillas) are powerful. Lions can take down large animals by themselves.[10]

One other physical similarity between gorillas and lions is their quadrupedalism. Both animals walk on all fours, although gorillas can walk on two legs for a bit.

Lion vs. Gorilla Physical Similarities

Behavioral Similarities

Here is a list of what makes lions and gorillas surprisingly similar in their behavior:

  • Groups are central to their lives. The main type of lion group is called a pride and gorilla groups are called groups.
  • Both adult lions and gorillas regularly groom and play with other adults.
  • The males usually interact with their offspring. Some lions are a bit more tolerant of their cubs.
  • Males protect the group, sometimes to death.
  • Infanticide is common amongst both animals.

Do Lions and Gorillas Ever Meet?

Yes, lions and gorillas can meet in the wild. While they prefer vastly different habitats, there is one remaining place on earth where they can meet in the wild. This place is called the “Bateke Plateau” on the border of Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

While lions don’t live in the jungle, there is a place on earth where they live close to it. On the border of Gabon and the Republic of Congo, there is a sliver of savannah mostly surrounded by tropical forest.

This unique spot is called the Bateke Plateau. It’s a transitional environment between tropical forest and drier savannah.[11]

Many animal species are found around this area, including western lowland gorillas and lions. This is the only area where lions and gorillas can meet in the wild. The presence of lions on the Plateau was confirmed in 2014 when a male was caught on a trail camera.[12]

Do Lions and Gorillas Ever Meet - 1

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

In a fight between a lion and a gorilla, the winner would most likely be the lion. While gorillas are strong, and silverbacks can be intimidating, they aren’t larger than lions. Gorillas also lack lions’ viciousness. Lions are predators, they constantly kill to survive. Still, a large silverback may be able to win under the right circumstances.

While males of both species are large and similar in size, the lions will almost certainly win most fights. Silverbacks are powerful and they have some impressive fangs of their own, but it’s unlikely they can handle a lion’s intent of killing them.

Lions regularly hunt and kill large herbivores like African buffaloes. While gorillas are powerful and intelligent, they are regularly killed by smaller felines. The leopard occasionally preys on silverbacks.[13]

If the smaller leopard can kill a silverback, a lion wouldn’t have much difficulty because lions are also smart and strong. There are not many scenarios where the gorilla comes out on top.


The main differences between lions and gorillas are their body types and diets. Lions are felines so they have a typical cat-like body. Gorillas are apes, so they have large arms, hands, and different overall build. Gorillas are herbivores so they forage for food, while lions are carnivores and they hunt. Both animals are social and groups are a big part of their lifestyles.

There is only one place where they can meet in the wild, the Bateke Plateau in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. If they were to fight, the gorilla would lose 90% of the time. Lions are large vicious predators, and even the smaller leopard can kill gorillas.

About Codrin Frunzete

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