Interspecies Conflict/Bison vs Bear


Hi BK its nice to be talking to you again and I hope your enjoying thanksgiving. Down to the question. Who would win between a Polar bear and an American bison?

Thank You

Hello Trish.  Good to hear from you.

Polar Bear vs American Bison: An American bison can weigh over 45% more than a polar bear and measure 30% taller at the shoulder.  The polar bear is, along with the Kodiak bear, the world's largest bear.  It is an incredibly strong animal from nose-to-tail, and demonstrates this strength in many ways.  The polar bear can bust holes in thick ice by pounding into it with its forelimbs, and can pull large animals out of the water by latching on with its claws (5cm long).  It also has solid endurance (can swim many miles out to sea without stopping), but may overheat with any prolonged activity on land that requires a great deal of energy.  The polar bear's claws and curved and sharp (to grip onto ice and into flesh), and its thick blubber (10cm thick in areas) can provide some protection from attack as well as insulation from the cold.  A polar bear's favorite food is seal, but it will also predate upon whales (like the beluga) and subadult walruses (a full-grown walrus is too dangerous for a polar bear to consider attacking).  During the warmer months when the Arctic ice sheet melts, the polar bear has few options in regards to food, and sometimes goes hungry for long periods of time.  This predator will sometimes resort to eating garbage close to human settlements, and this can be dangerous for both human and bear.  The American bison is the largest terrestrial animal in the Western hemisphere.  A great deal of the bison's weight is in its shoulder and head area, and it is a very sturdy and powerful herbivore.  The bison is armed with thick horns that protrude out from the sides of its head and curve upward, and a formidable set of sharp hooves.  Male bison battle one another by charging toward one another and ramming heads, but they will also hook with their horns to injure the body of their adversaries.  Packs of wolves usually avoid attacking a full-grown healthy bison due to the high level of danger posed by the bovid's hooves (which can fatally trample or lacerate a wolf with ease).  Bison are sometimes attacked by grizzly bears, but only subadult ones or ones weakened by a particular circumstance (injury, poor health, old age, etc.) are ever targeted.  Polar bears don't regularly encounter prey items with good lateral mobility on land, and this will be a disadvantage for one on land against an American bison.  A polar bear may occasionally ("rarely" might be a better word to use) encounter a land-based herbivore as large as a muskox (over 400kg), but this isn't a common-enough occurrence to grant the bear "expert status" at overpowering one.  An bison can weigh as much as 1,000kg, and can generate a lot more power with its thrusts and charges than a muskox can.  A polar bear's ability to wrestle with and overpower medium-sized walruses is impressive, but the skills needed to do this won't transfer seamlessly to a battle with an animal possessing superior lateral quickness & mobility (like a bison).  The bear will have the capability of injuring the bison with paw swipes and bites, but trying to effect an offense while being rammed and kicked by a much larger animal will be a huge challenge for the ursid.  A polar bear's forepaws can be used to control the movements of another bear, a pinniped, or even a small herbivore in a conflict, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the bear will have the same kind of success (or know-how) trying to control the movements of the bison.  As strong as a polar bear is, it won't have as much absolute strength as a bison weighing almost 50% more than it does, and will likely get steamrolled because it won't be able to prevent the massive bison from consistently gaining separation and attacking over-and-over.  For a smaller animal to have success at subduing a bison by itself, it will likely need to be able to jump, have great quickness and agility, and have a specific killing method that can be applied while keeping the attacker relatively safe from counter-attack.  A big cat can do these things; a bear can't.  A bear typically kills by brutalization (using its weaponry to inflict damage after using its strength to overpower), and that won't work with a one-ton bison.  Bears are typically fantastic fighters and I won't rule the polar bear out completely in this battle, but without deep snow (which will encumber the bison but not the bear due to its dinner plate-size paws that enable it to move easily across it) or other added advantage the polar bear's chances will be close to zero.  I would probably favor a polar bear over a bison at close weights in a serious battle (although realistically the bison will still drive the bear away), but not at average or maximum weights.  The bison is simply too big and powerful.  For a similar answer check out "King of Americas" from 8/30/13 which includes a matchup between a wood bison and a polar bear.  American bison wins.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Best regards.  

Interspecies Conflict

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Questions regarding animal conflicts within realistic or unrealistic settings are welcome; my strength lies in medium-to-large species. Small animals (including birds of prey), prehistoric animals, sea creatures, and domestic dog breeds are usually within my scope, but to a lesser degree. I can't confidently answer hypothetical questions about human vs animal, arachnids, insects, or amphibians, but I am willing to field them nonetheless.


From a young age, I have been interested in animals. Starting with the original Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and World Book Encyclopedias, I have seen many animal shows and documentaries and have read multiple books on the subject. I have a solid understanding of the physiology of many animals and interspecies conflict in general.

Associate degree in unrelated field; biology classes in college.

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