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Mountain Lion vs. Lion: 11 Key Differences

The main difference between lions and mountain lions is their size. Lions are much larger than mountain lions. Adult female lions are usually over 240 pounds, with males being larger than 350 pounds. The largest male mountain lions weigh around 200-220 pounds. While they are both great predators, they live in different parts of the world. Mountain lions and lions also have many similarities since they’re both felines.

Mountain lions and lions are large felines, that are some of the top predators in their regions. They are both keystone species, and lions are the apex predators in their environments.

They are related and they can look similar, especially from afar. There are enough differences to easily set them apart once you get a better look.

Throughout this article, we’ll look at the differences and similarities between mountain lions and lions. We’ll also see which one is the most efficient predator and who would win in a fight.

Mountain Lions vs. Lions: An Overview

Mountain lions and lions share the overall feline body shape, but lions are much stronger than mountain lions. They are larger and have a stronger bite, so lions have more killing power. Lions and mountain lions also live in different parts of the world.

Mountain lions and lions are both large felines. They are related and share some traits while staying distinct from one another, mainly in size, mane, and habitat. 

Here’s a quick comparison of the two:

TraitMountain LionLion
Height24–35 inches35-45 inches
Avg. Length (with tail)7 feet 10 inches8 feet 10 inches
Weight110–220 lbs240-500 lbs
DistributionWestern North America, Florida, and South AmericaSub-saharan Africa and around Gir National Park in western India.
HabitatFrom rocky mountain plateaus and deserts to tropical forests and swamps. Prefers high elevations and steep environments.Savannahs, grasslands, open woodlands with shrubs, and tropical or moist forests.
Bite force1311 N4400 N
Lifespan8–13 years in the wild8-16 years in the wild

Lions and mountain lions vary in size depending on region, age, and sex, but lions are generally larger. 

Small lionesses are a little larger than large male mountain lions. Lions are overall one of the largest felines, only rivaled by tigers.

Related: How Big Are Mountain Lions?

Mountain Lions vs. Lions An Overview

Mountain Lions vs. Lions: Taxonomy and Classification

Mountain lions and lions are related, as they are both felines, part of the Felidae family. But the mountain lion is part of the Puma genus, while lions are part of the Panthera genus.

Here’s an overview of mountain lion and lion taxonomy and classification:

ClassificationMountain LionLion
SpeciesPuma concolorPanthera leo

Lions are part of the Panthera genus along with leopards, jaguars, and tigers. Their larynx is different from other felines and this gives them the ability to roar.

While mountain lions look similar to lions, jaguars, and other large cats, they aren’t closely related to them. Genetically mountain lions are closer to other feline species like lynx, bobcat, and domestic cats.

Mountain Lions vs. Lions Taxonomy and Classification

Differences Between Mountain Lions and Lions

The main differences between mountain lions and lions are their size, social behavior, and mane. Lions are much larger than mountain lions and they live in a pride, whereas mountain lions are solitary. Male lions also have their signature mane, a trait unique to them.

Mountain lions and lions are distinct animals. While they are both felines they have many physical and behavioral differences.

Physical Differences Between Lions and Mountain Lions

Here’s a quick overview of the main physical differences between mountain lions and lions:

  • Size: Lions are much larger than mountain lions. Large male mountain lions can reach 220 pounds while male lions are generally heavier than 350 pounds.
  • Proportions: Mountain lions have much smaller heads than lions proportionally to their body size. Mountain lions also have longer legs relative to body size.
  • Build: The builds of the two felines are different. Mountain lions are long and slender, while lions are taller, broader, and more muscular. Lions have the largest percentage of muscle mass of any mammal at around 58%.[1]
  • Colors: Lions are generally a light brown-yellowish color but can also be a yellowish red or darker brown. Mountain lions are usually a tawny color but can be a grayish or reddish color.
  • Differences between males and females: Male lions have noticeably broader heads than females. They also generally have a mane that covers part of their head, neck, shoulders, and chest. Mountain lion females closely resemble males.
  • Tails structure: Lions have unique tails among felines. The last bones in their tail tips are fused together. The tail tip is also covered by a black tuft of fur.
  • Sounds: Lions roar while mountain lions purr.
Physical Differences Between Lions and Mountain Lions

Behavioral Differences Between Lions and Mountain Lions

Besides the major physical differences, behavior is what truly sets mountain lions and lions apart:

  • Social behavior: Mountain lions are solitary like most other felines. Lions are social animals. They form family groups called prides and groups of young males called coalitions. They frequently use group tactics when hunting.[2]
  • Place in the food chain: Both are top predators in their environment, but lions are in fact the apex predator in theirs. The only animals that frequently kill lions are other lions and humans.
  • Males and cubs: Mountain lion males don’t have any influence on the cubs’ upbringing while male lions tolerate and play with their cubs. Male lions also defend their pride, from threats.
  • Adaptability: Mountain lions are versatile and adapt to changes fast. They adapt better to human activity and aren’t as negatively impacted as lions.

Similarities Between Mountain Lions and Lions

The main similarities between mountain lions and “real” lions are their hunting abilities and activity pattern. They are both proficient hunters that can take down large prey, and they prefer hunting under the cover of darkness.

While mountain lions and lions aren’t too closely related they still resemble each other in many aspects:

  • They are carnivores.
  • They ambush hunt to catch their prey.
  • They both have markings when they are cubs but they fade away as they grow.
  • They can see well in low-light conditions.
  • They prefer being active right after sunset and before sunrise.
  • They generally kill their prey by suffocating it.
Similarities Between Mountain Lions and Lions

Do Mountain Lions and Lions Ever Meet?

No, mountain lions and lions don’t meet in the wild. They live in different parts of the world. Lions live in Africa, while mountain lions live in the Americas.

Mountain lions are found across North, South, and Central America. They have a huge range, the largest of any mammal in the western hemisphere. Their range is also much larger than lions’ range.

Related: Where Do Mountain Lions Live?

Lions used to have a large historic range, but it is greatly diminished today. They used to be found throughout most of Africa, southeastern Europe, and from the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent. 

The African lion is found in scattered, isolated populations across sub-Saharan Africa. The Asiatic lion population is small and limited to the Gujarat region of India, inside Gir National Park and around it.

Mountain Lions vs. Lions: Who Would Win in a Fight?

In a fight between a mountain lion and a “real” lion, the mountain lion would have no chance whatsoever. Lions are larger and stronger than mountain lions. If they could meet in the wild, the lion would dominate every interaction between the two species.

Lions are some of the strongest felines in the world. They are physically superior to mountain lions in almost every way. 

An argument can be made for the mountain lion’s superior agility, but that wouldn’t be enough to overpower a lion.

The largest officially recognized mountain lion weighed 232 pounds. This seems large until you realize that small lionesses weigh about 260 pounds.[3] 

Lions are simply massive when compared to mountain lions and weight advantage is one of the most important factors in a fight. A mountain lion has no chance of winning this fight.

Mountain Lions vs. Lions Who Would Win in a Fight

Which One is More Dangerous?

Both mountain lions and lions are dangerous predators.

Mountain lions are adaptable and hunt for different-sized animals depending on region, competition, and prey availability. They are capable of catching small animals like squirrels as well as large mammals like elk and moose.

Lions don’t generally hunt for small animals. They are large themselves and this wouldn’t be efficient for them. They can kill large animals by themselves, and when they hunt together they can even take down young elephants and giraffes.[4]

Both species can kill humans, but out of the two, lions are more dangerous. They are much larger and there is no way unarmed humans can successfully defend themselves. 

While mountain lions can also kill us, many people have successfully fended off their attacks.[5][6]


Mountain lions and lions are similar in many ways, but they are clearly different from each other. Lions are much larger and stronger, they are also social animals that live in groups and cooperate with one another. Mountain lions have adapted better to changes in their environments and to human expansion than lions. If they could meet and fight in the wild the lion would dominate the mountain lion.

About Codrin Frunzete

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