Lions and tigers, both termed “big cats,” have overlapping ranges but seldom live in the same habitats.
Tigers are burnt orange with black stripes and lions are sandy brown with faint, darker spots.
When a female tiger and a male lion mate, their offspring is called a “liger!”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! This classic quote may come to mind when you think of two of the world’s largest cats – the lion and the tiger. How can you tell these big cats apart? What happens when you cross a lion and a tiger? Do lions and tigers ever get in fights? Would tiger vs lion size be a factor in this epic battle? Who would win? Let’s find out.
Lion vs Tiger
There are several key differences between lions and tigers. The most apparent difference is their appearance, which we’ll discuss in detail. Also, while their ranges overlap, lions and tigers don’t usually live in the same place.
Sandy brown; occasionally reddish, tinged black, or white
White or orange with black stripes
Africa, southern Europe, and Asia
208 cm (6.8 ft)
390 cm (12.8 ft)
225 kg (496 lb)
300 kg (660 lb)
Pride of up to 30
The 5 Key Differences Between Tigers vs Lions
For this discussion, we’ll be focusing on the African lion (Panthera leo) and the tiger (Panthera tigris). Note that there are a number of subspecies, some of which are smaller than the animals discussed here.
Tiger vs Lion: Coloration
Coloration is the easiest way to tell lions and tigers apart. Tigers carry a distinct striped pattern, while lions are solid-colored. Male lions also sport a thick, furry mane around their necks; female lions and all tigers do not.
Variations do occur within each species. Tigers are commonly either orange or white with black stripes. Rarely, white tigers may have brown rather than black stripes. The “snow tiger” morph has very faint stripes and reddish banding on the tail. Golden tigers are blonde with reddish-brown stripes. Black tigers have extremely thick stripes with little of the other colors showing through.
Lions may also vary in color. Most lions have brown, golden, or yellowish fur, and others are pure white. A male lion’s mane can have black or reddish tinges or be completely blonde. Manes, which are shaggy and thick around a lion’s face, can range in size based on age and genetics. As the male lion ages, his mane grows darker as well as the tip of his tail. Cubs are a light color with brown spots, which will eventually fade.
Tiger vs Lion: Range
Most of the lion’s range is in Africa, and most of the tiger’s range is in Asia. This geographic distribution may help you to determine which animal you saw.
There is, however, some overlap between the ranges in Eurasia. Historically, this overlap was larger, and confrontations between wild lions and tigers did occur. Today, lions and tigers share habitat only in small portions of India and the Middle East.
Tiger vs Lion: Length
Tigers are generally longer than lions – nearly twice as long. Male lions max out at nearly 7 ft, head, and body, while male tigers max out at nearly 13 ft.
Tiger vs Lion: Weight
The larger tigers also weigh more than lions. Male tigers can reach a whopping 660 lbs, while male lions max out at just under 500 lbs. Tiger females typically weigh between 200 and 370 pounds. Female lions usually weigh from 265 to 395 pounds.
Tiger vs Lion: Sociability
Lions typically live and hunt in groups known as a pride. Females do most of the hunting and prides typically contain just one adult male. These prides may sustain as many as 30 individual lions. Young males may travel and hunt in small groups of three to five individuals before founding their own prides.
Tigers, on the other hand, are generally solitary. Young tigers establish their own territories as they near adulthood. The territories of young females may overlap with their mother’s territories for a time, but the animals do not hunt together.
Both species are known to be capable of extreme, dangerous aggression. It has been estimated that tigers, on average, kill about 1,800 people per year worldwide. There have been accounts of lions slaying prey, such as hyenas, and not even bothering to eat them. Apex predators, like lions and tigers, sometimes use hostile acts to maintain dominance and remind other animals in their ecosystem of who sits atop the food chain.
Tiger vs Lion: Who Would Win in a Fight?
As the two largest big cats, a common question is whether a tiger or lion would win in a fight. Today, the ranges of the two animals don’t overlap. Tigers live throughout Asia, while only a small population of lions still exists in the continent and is confined to a single national park in India.
However, with tigers having recently been spotted near this national park for the first time in 27 years, the question of “who would win in a fight between lions and tigers” might finally have a standoff in the wild!
Most conflicts between lions and tigers have occurred in captivity. One famous incident at the Ankara Zoo in 2010 saw a Tiger enter a lion’s exhibit. The battle didn’t last long, with a single swipe from the tiger severing the lion’s jugular. Another conflict between a lion and a tiger occurred at New York City’s Bronx Zoo in 1914. The battle lasted much longer but had a similar result with the tiger eventually breaking the back of the lion.
So, the short answer is that in battles between lions and tigers, tigers have generally held the upper hand and won fights.
However, bear in mind that these fights are in captivity, and in the wild where tigers are solitary and lions have group structures, the results could be far different. One group of six male lions nicknamed the Mapogo lion coalition banded together in South Africa and controlled an estimated 170,000 acres. The coalition killed more than 100 rivals before they met their demise. In a battle between tigers and a group as ferocious as the Mapogo coalition, our money is on the lions.
Can Tiger and Lion Get Along?
Considering lions and tigers have the same ranges but don’t necessarily cross paths means they can easily coexist in the wild. Believe it or not, lions and tigers can actually reproduce! The offspring of these felines have separate terms depending on which sex of lion and tiger mated.
A liger is a term for the hybrid offspring of a male lion with a female tiger. Characteristics of each parent are shown in ligers. They love to swim, like tigers, and are very sociable, like lions. Surprisingly, ligers grow larger than either of their parent felines does. The coloration of ligers has faint stripes like a tiger’s and possibly faint spots from their lion genes. Under colors include tawny, sand, or gold. In some cases, white tigers have been bred with lions to produce white ligers, who have faint stripes or lack them completely.
On the other hand, a tigon is the hybrid offspring of a male tiger with a female lion. Tigons can have spots resembling their mother lion’s and stripes from their tiger genes. Male tigons have shorter and less noticeable manes than typical lions do. Growth-inhibitory genes are passed down to these offspring, so tigons do not grow larger than their parent species.
Originally, both ligers and tigons were considered sterile, meaning they were unable to reproduce. However, there have been certain instances where a tigress reproduced with a tiger to produce litigon offspring. Another case proved that a liger and lion mated, producing liliger offspring.
Summary: Tiger vs Lion
Golden, sandy colored with faint spots
Males have thick, sometimes dark manes
Orange with black stripes
Some overlap Eurasia
Some overlap Eurasia
7 ft long
2x length of lion – 13 ft long
500 lb males
660 lb males
Prides – 30+ lions
Young, male bachelor groups
Female territories may overlap with mother’s
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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