It’s hard to imagine putting any animal up against a lion. They’re king of the jungle, who could be better? They do have some formidable family members, though.
In the natural world’s classification system, both the lion and the mountain lion come from the same family: Felidae, also known as cats.
They are two different species, however: a lion’s scientific name is Panthera leo and a mountain lion’s is mountain lion concolor.
To make matters more complicated, mountain lion concolor is known by several names in the English language.
Forty, to be precise. In fact, that’s so many that the mountain lion concolor has been awarded a Guinness World Record for having the most number of names!
Lion vs Mountain Lion: Size and Weight
Lions are the king of the jungle. Their sheer size earns them this title. To their shoulder, lions stand between 3.5 and 4 ft tall. Their bodies measure up to 10 ft in length, not including their tails!
Though smaller, females still average 9 ft in length. These long bodies are complimented by considerable heft. Male lions can weigh between 330 and 550 lbs while females are considerably slighter, averaging between 265 and 395 lbs.
Depending on where you find them, the size of a mountain lion can vary. Closer to the equator they’re at their smallest.
As you move out towards each pole (mountain lions are found from the tip of North America to the tip of South America!), they get bigger. The largest a male mountain lion can weigh is 220 lbs, with females topping out at 141 lbs – easily half the size of a lion.
4 ft to shoulder max
2 ft 11 in to shoulder max
550 lbs max
220 lbs max
37 mph max
50 mph max
Lion vs Mountain Lion: Speed/Movement
Like all cats, lions are lazy. They spend most of the day – over 20 hours in fact – lounging around. If they’re not sleeping, they’re simply hanging about, conserving their energy for when they are on the move.
Once they get moving, they keep their pace steady unless they really need to, like when attacking prey. At its fastest, a lion can burst up to 37 mph, but only maintain this distance for no more than 200 yds.
Mountain lions are good jumpers, known to pounce into trees or up hillsides as much as 20 ft high! This is made possible by their powerful hind legs, more muscular than their front ones.
They also have an especially flexible spine that helps them maneuver tighter situations. They’re also able swimmers, but avoid it if possible. A definite edge on the lion.
Lion vs Mountain Lion: Weapons
While house cats’ tongues may tickle, lions’ tongues can tear flesh from bone. The papillae that make feline tongues sandpaper rough are especially sharp on lions, helping them to break through the skin of their slain prey to clear the meat off the bones.
They also have incredible long and sharp canine teeth that help them grab hold of prey, puncture the skin, and keep hold until the animal bleeds out.
Mountain lions have excellent vision, especially at night. It is also suggested that they have very good hearing, as well, due to their closest relatives’ – the housecat – ability to hear within an ultrasonic range.
Lion vs Mountain Lion: Intelligence
A study carried out by South African researchers in Florida confirmed lions’ superior intelligence through a puzzle in which pulling a rope opened a box full of meat.
In the study, 11 of 12 lions solved the puzzle. Half a year later, 10 lions still remembered what to do in order to get their treat.
An interesting element of this study is that 7 of these lions learned to solve the puzzle by watching the others succeed – proof that lions can not only solve mental tasks and remember them, but also analyze the way their peers do.
In the same test, lions outperformed other big cats like leopards and tigers with results that suggest greater social intelligence skills than primates! Need anymore convincing on the king of the jungle’s killer intellect?
There are no specific studies carried out to (dis)prove a mountain lion’s intelligence.
Though often likened to the domestic cat, an intelligent specimen, there simply isn’t concrete proof.
However, some of its behavior hints at highly developed reasoning skills. When faced with an equal or greater foe, such as a bear or a coyote, come to compete for its successful kill, a mountain lion will abandon its prey.
They are hesitant to engage in competition with other apex predators; they know it won’t be worth the fight. We could argue that such a reluctance hints at least at wisdom, if not intelligence.
Hunting Skills/Instinct to Kill
The females are the breadwinners in the African savanna. The will often work in a group, several lionesses working together to corner a single prey.
They will stalk it slowly for a long time before attacking in one big burst of energy.
The bachelor males who find themselves without a pride to belong to are subject to eat whatever they manage to catch, so male lions aren’t completely useless on the hunt.
However, it could be argued that lionesses are considerably more formidable as it’s not unusual that they will have to defend their own offspring against male lions seeking to join a pride who are on an infanticide.
Male lions have a natural instinct to kill those who threaten their place within their own species. Female lions have the honed hunting skills and the instinct to protect their own.
A mountain lion’s typical kill consists of deer or elk, but they are known to go for smaller prey if there are no ungulates around.
On average, their prey is from 2-3x larger than themselves – a serious fact to consider when sizing them up against a lion. They hunt by ambush. They prowl about at hours with poor visibility for their prey – dawn and dusk – and attack their target from an angle that’s meant to knock them off balance.
(Related: Bobcat Vs. Cougar: Who Would Win in a Fight?)
Lion vs Mountain Lion: Weakness
Lions do not hunt by sense of smell. This is a huge disadvantage as it means that they do not consider their own scent.
Ignoring the way the wind is blowing means they easily give themselves away to other animals who rely on their keen sense of smell as a warning for impending doom.
In fact, only about 30% of lions’ hunts are successful. That means they come home empty-handed 70% of the time!
Another weakness is their lack of stamina. They tire easily after a sprint, hence their hunting technique.
Finally, while lionesses are the prized hunters in a pride, it’s the males that do most of the defending. This is an interesting split of skills into offense and defense.
Depending on which gender lion you would want to pit against a mountain lion, a male may hold its own for longer whereas a female may gain an advantage quicker. These gender-disparate skills could affect the outcome of such a fight.
Like lions, mountain lions do not use their sense of smell when hunting.
While this puts the two big cats on an even playing field, it could have been an advantage for the American feline.
Actually, we should note that mountain lions (and cheetahs, too, as a side note) are not technically big cats!
They are the largest “small cats,” which mean that like Oreo and Bootsie, mountain lions do no roar.
While this does not give them a physical disadvantage, an animal’s roar is known to contribute a certain bravado about them when declaring their intent.
Without a roar, a mountain lion is left with a measly growl or hiss.
While we love a good underdog story, and while it puts up an impressive profile, it is highly unlikely the mountain lion would win.
Despite its better range of motion, high speed, and comparable skills, its much smaller size coupled with its hesitancy in competitive settings would make it an unlikely winner.