Tigers vs. Lions: Comparing Their Size and Differences

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 8th November 2023


Summary: Tiger vs. Lion Comparison Chart

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Scientific NamePanthera tigrisPanthera leo
SizeLength: 1.9–3.1 meters (6.2-10.2 feet)
Weight: up to 423 kilograms (932 pounds)
Body Length: 2.3–3 meters (7.5-9.9 feet)
Weight: up to 225 kilograms (497 pounds)
Coloration and Appearance-Orange coat covered in black vertical stripes
-White underbelly
-Lacks the distinctive mane seen in male lions
-Yellowish, brownish, dark brown coat
-Lighter on the undersides
-Male lions have their famous mane
DistributionAsia (India, Russian Far East, Southeast Asia, Sumatra)Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia (India)
HabitatForested areasSavannas
Diet and Hunting Techniques-Carnivore
-occasionally scavenger
-Primarily an ambush predator, as it cannot run fast for long
-Carnivore and scavenger
-Primarily an ambush predator, as it cannot run fast for long
Lifestyle-Hunts primarily at night
-active throughout the day
-solitary
-Rests for about 20 hours a day
-hunts primarily at dusk
-extremenly social
Reproduction-103 days gestation period
-1–7 cubs
-Tigress take care of their cubs alone
-Cubs weaned at 8 months old
-110 days gestation period
-1–4 cubs
-Male lions and other lions from the pride help the mom care for the cubs
-Cubs weaned at 6–7 months old
Lifespan-10–15 years in the wild
-Up to 26 years in captivity
-12–17 years in the wild
-26–29 years in captivity

Wildlife enthusiasts have long been fascinated by the rivalry between tigers and lions.

Which one’s the larger?

Which one’s a better hunter?

Which one’s more powerful?

Finding the answers has been a challenge, and rightfully so.

How can one choose the better, more capable predator when they’re both highly skilled?!

Still, here we are, outlining the differences between them and trying to understand which of the two animals would have better chances of winning in a fight.

So, if you’re here to learn about some key differences and similarities between tigers and lions, keep reading, as we’ve got everything covered!

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Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Scientific Classification

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Scientific NameDomain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Felifornia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera tigris
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Felifornia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Pantherinae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera leo

Tigers and lions are part of the same genus – Panthera – alongside other felids like the jaguar and the leopard.

Together, they are classified under the Felidae family of the Feliformia suborder.

The taxonomic similarities end here, though, as tigers and lions are different species.

tiger
The Tiger as the King of Beasts | luxiangjian4711 via iStock

Tigers are called Panthera tigris, whereas lions are referred to as Panthera leo.

The Panthera tigris species is further divided into five subspecies, of which three are extinct:

  • Panthera tigris tigris, or the Asian tiger, is further divided into six populations, of which the Caspian is extinct.
  • Panthera tigris sondaica, or the Sunda Island tiger, is further divided into three populations, of which the Javan and the Bali are extinct.
  • Panthera tigris acutidens (extinct)
  • Panthera tigris soloensis (extinct)
  • Panthera tigris trinilensis (extinct)
lion
The Lion as the King of the Jungle | ra-photos via iStock

Lions have only three subspecies, of which one is extinct:

  • Panthera leo leo, further divided into several populations from Asia and Western and Northern Africa.
  • Panthera leo melanochaita, further divided into several populations from Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • Panthera leo sinhaleyus (extinct)

Coloration and Appearance

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Coloration and Appearance-Orange coat covered in black vertical stripes
-White underbelly
-Lacks the distinctive mane seen in male lions
-Yellowish, brownish, dark brown coat
-Lighter on the undersides
-Male lions have their famous mane

Tigers and lions have compact yet muscular bodies, large-rounded heads, short-rounded ears, and strong limbs.

There are two characteristics any wildlife enthusiast knows about lions and tigers – lions have their famous mane, while tigers are covered in their iconic black stripes. 

This is the most obvious distinction between the two – quite a noticeable characteristic indeed!

However, these felids can be distinguished through other characteristics as well!

First things first – the coat coloration.

Besides the fact that lions lack the distinctive black stripes of tigers, they’re also of a different color. 

lion
A lion laying down unbothered | KvdB50 via iStock

Some lions are light brownish yellow, others are yellowish red or dark brown, and some are silvery gray.

Only the newborns have darker spots, except that these spots fade away as the cubs grow.

Lions also have a dark tuft at the end of their tails and, of course, the mane of male lions that covers their heads, necks, chests, and shoulders.

It’s a symbol of maturity, fitness, and great reproductive success. 

The mane is usually darker than the rest of the fur, sometimes even interspersed with black hairs.

tiger
The beautiful coat of a tiger | Histoirdemy Photography via iStock

Tigers, on the other hand, have white undersides and orangish upper sides marked by vertical black stripes arranged in unique patterns, depending on each individual. 

Did you know that tigers also have a kind of mane, except that it is less prominent than in lions?

The hairs are shorter than those of a lion’s mane, but they still cover the neck and the jaws.

Both predators rely on their fur to camouflage themselves with the surroundings – no wonder they’re excellent at catching whatever they set their eyes on and have few to no predators!

Range and Geographic Distribution

Key DifferencesTigerLion
DistributionAsia (India, Russian Far East, Southeast Asia, Sumatra)Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia (India)
HabitatForested AreasSavannas

Tigers are currently found only on the Indian subcontinent, the Russian Far East, mainland Southeast Asia, and Sumatra.

Compared to their historic distribution, their current range is considerably smaller.

Check out how scientists group tiger populations depending on their distribution:

  • The Bengal tiger – India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and southwestern China
  • The Siberian tiger – Northeast China and the Russian Far East, primarily found in the Sikhote-Alin mountain region.
  • The South China tiger – it historically inhabited Hunan, Guangdong, Fujian, and Jiangxi provinces but is possibly extinct.
  • The Malayan tiger – southern and central regions of the Malay Peninsula
  • The Indochinese tiger – Myanmar and Thailand
  • The Sumatran tiger – the Sunda Islands of the Malay Archipelago

Within their natural range, tigers are known to prefer forested areas inhabited by bovids, cervids, and suids. 

They live in riverine forests, hilly and lowland forests, temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, evergreen forests, and tropical dry forests, among others.

Their habitat depends on their geographic locations.

By contrast, lions are found majorly in sub-Saharan Africa.

They’re primarily distributed across the region’s savannahs and grassy plains, although some populations settled in open woodlands. 

Some lions have also been spotted in West and East Africa, where they live in tropical moist forests and montane forests.

An Asiatic lion population is found in and outside India’s Gir Forest, sustained by dry savannah forests and deciduous scrub forests.

Length and Weight Comparison

Key DifferencesTigerLion
SizeLength: 1.9–3.1 meters (6.2-10.2 feet)
Weight: up to 423 kilograms (932 pounds)
Body Length: 2.3–3 meters (7.5-9.9 feet)
Weight: up to 225 kilograms (497 pounds)

Lioness and a Tigress | Vadimborkin via iStock

Both tigresses and lionesses are much smaller than their male counterparts.

Species-wise, tigers are slightly larger than lions.

Males measure 2.2–3.1 meters (7.2-10.2 feet) long, whereas females are 1.9–2.75 meters (6.2-9.1 feet) long. 

Conversely, male lions are 2.66–3.01 meters (8.7-9.9 feet) long, while females measure 2.3–2.7 meters (7.5-8.7 feet).

Tigers are also much heavier than lions.

They weigh, on average, 90–300 kilograms (198-662 pounds), although some individuals reached an extraordinary weight of 423 kilograms (932 pounds)! Lions, on the other hand, rarely grow heavier than 225 kilograms (497 pounds).

Social Behavior and Sociability

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Lifestyle-Hunts primarily at night
-active throughout the day
-solitary
-Rests for about 20 hours a day
-hunts primarily at dusk
-extremely social

The biggest difference between tigers and lions in terms of behavior is the extent to which they interact with each other.

Tigers are solitary by nature and tend to avoid their peers most of the time.

tiger
A tiger is a solitary animal | GlobalP via iStock

Nonetheless, even though they establish territories, tigers live close to other individuals and are typically quite tolerant of each other, especially females.

In contrast, lions are extremely social and live in groups called prides, which usually consist of 15–30 individuals.

Nonetheless, some male lions lead a nomadic lifestyle either alone or with another male.

This social behavior can likely be linked to the habitat they live in, as larger groups make for greater territories and, therefore, better access to prey and water. 

lion
Lion pride resting in the grass at sunset | stanzi11 via iStock

The females within the same pride typically do not tolerate outside females.

Even though tigers are quite solitary, they may sometimes share their kill with other tigers.

Lions usually don’t do that – male lions allow females to feed only when they’re finished.

Although both are quite capable predators, tigers are much more active than lions, which are known to rest for up to 20 hours a day! 

However, this can be associated with the habitat they live in – while tigers can move around in forested areas even when the temperatures are high, lions must remain in the shade when the sun is at its best.

Both lions and tigers rely on vocalizations to communicate.

Tigers usually roar to inform others of their presence – their roars can be heard from 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away! Sometimes, other tigers roar in response.

When they’re aggressive, tigers will growl or hiss, opening their mouths and showing their teeth.

Additionally, just like domestic cats, they may purr or meow when they’re comfortable.

Similar to tigers, lions rely on snarling, roaring, growling, and meowing to communicate with one another. 

Sometimes, they humm or purr.

A lion’s roar is much stronger than that of a tiger, as it can be heard from 8 kilometers (5 miles) away!

When informing others of their presence, lions usually start with deep, long roars and continue with several shorter ones.

Lifespan and Reproduction

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Reproduction-103 days gestation period
-1–7 cubs
-Tigress take care of their cubs alone
-Cubs weaned at 8 months old
-110 days gestation period
-1–4 cubs
-Male lions and other lions from the pride help the mom care for the cubs
-Cubs weaned at 6–7 months old
Lifespan-10–15 years in the wild
-Up to 26 years in captivity
-12–17 years in the wild
-26–29 years in captivity

lion
African couple of lions mating | Italian photographer via iStock

Like all mammals, tigers and lions are viviparous animals that reproduce sexually. 

They do not have a particular breeding season and can mate throughout the year, although the peak differs depending on their geographic location.

Both lions and tigers display courtship behavior during which males and females rub against each other.

As in the case of all felines, the penis of male tigers and lions are covered in spines.

During mating, these barbs rake the female’s vagina, which is said to induce ovulation. 

This is why females are often aggressive and violent after mating.

While tiger couples mate multiple times during the same day (sometimes as many as 50 times!), lionesses will usually mate with several partners when in heat.

tiger
Mating Bengal tigers | guenterguni via iStock

Although they’re closely related and share numerous similarities in terms of reproductive behavior, we found some aspects that are specific to each:

  • Lions are known to engage in homosexual behavior; tigers have never been observed to mate with other tigers of the same sex.
  • A tigress’ average gestation length is 103 days, while a lioness’ is 110 days.
  • Tigers give birth to 1–7 cubs, while lionesses produce litters of 1–4 cubs.
  • Both tiger and lion cubs are born in sheltered areas (a cave or a thicket). They’re born blind and helpless. Lions usually open their eyes seven days after birth, whereas tigers can remain blind for as many as 14 days after being born.
  • While tiger moms care for their cubs alone, lionesses are lucky to benefit from the help of their partners, especially when they’re out hunting, and even from other members of their prides.
  • Lion cubs are weaned a bit earlier – when they turn 6–7 months old. Conversely, tiger cubs are weaned at eight months of age.
  • Tigers have an average lifespan of 10–15 years, while lions are known to live 12–17 years. The longest-living tiger (raised in captivity) died at the age of 26. Similarly, the longest-living lion was 26–29 years old at the time of its death.

Diet and Hunting Strategies

Key DifferencesTigerLion
Diet and Hunting Techniques-Carnivore
-occasionally scavenger
-Primarily an ambush predator, as it cannot run fast for long
-Carnivore and scavenger
-Primarily an ambush predator, as it cannot run fast for long

As you’ve probably already guessed, lions and tigers are apex predators in their habitats. 

So, naturally, they’ve evolved to have highly specialized hunting techniques that allow them to put down any prey they set their eyes on!

Both species are known to prefer feeding on ungulates, although the most commonly taken prey varies, as tigers and lions live in different habitats.

tiger
Tiger hunting its prey in the wild | SOURAVMUKHERJEE via iStock

For example, tigers usually go for sambar deer, swamp deer, and Manchurian wapiti. 

Lions, on the other hand, choose gemsboks, giraffes, blue wildebeests, and African buffaloes.

The only lion population that hunts sambar deer is the one living in India.

Tigers are also known to hunt monkeys, peafowl, porcupines, fish, birds, dogs, bears, snakes, and even leopards and crocodiles! 

They don’t even back down from confrontations with Asian elephants and Indian rhinoceros, while lions usually avoid fully grown hippos, rhinos, and elephants, except when they’re hunting in groups. 

Instead, like tigers, they won’t refuse a monkey, hare, or porcupine prey.

The hunting techniques tigers and lions rely on are incredibly similar!

Both felids aren’t very fast, reaching 50–60 km/h (31-37 mph) in short bursts only, so they usually do not pursue prey if it implies chasing it down. 

Instead, they are experts at taking cover and then ambushing prey through a quick and powerful attack.

lion
Male lion attack huge buffalo bull while riding on his back | AOosthuizen via iStock

Both species prefer catching prey by delivering a bite to the throat or nape.

If it feels safe, tigers and lions will delight in their meal on the spot. 

Occasionally, they drag the carcass to a safe spot and enjoy their dinner (or breakfast!).

So, how can we tell lions and tigers apart when discussing their eating habits and hunting techniques?

They seem to have evolved with similar feeding methods, don’t they?! Well, not that fast!

There’s one big difference between the two: while tigers also feast on a carrion meal once in a while, lions do so much more often! 

They’re actually famous for masterfully stealing kills from other animals.

Lions also scavenge carcasses of animals that have died from diseases and even keep an eye on vultures that help them find carcasses. 

Considering that they do not spend too much time hunting, this is unsurprising!

Who Would Win in a Fight?

I am more ferocious! | DikkyOesin via iStock

If a tiger and a lion were to confront each other in the wild, the tiger would likely win the fight. 

It is larger and heavier than the lion, more adapted to fighting and confronting enemies thanks to its active lifestyle, and can use its forelimbs more effectively than a lion.

In fact, one Bengal tiger living in captivity actually did kill a lion just through a single stroke with its paw that damaged the lion’s jugular vein.

On the other hand, considering that lions usually hunt and live in groups, the likelihood of a tiger stumbling upon a solitary lion is low. 

So, if a tiger has to fight a group of lions, it probably doesn’t stand a chance of winning.

Lions are known for having quite intelligent techniques in fighting off enemies while working in groups. 

They make use of these skills when stealing kills from other animals and are almost always successful!

Hybrids and Controversies

The hybrids created upon the breeding of captive tigers and lions are called ligers and tigons.

A liger is an offspring of a male lion and a female tiger.

The liger is quite large, growing up to 3–3.6 meters (9.8-11.8 feet) in length and reaching 418.2 kilograms (922 pounds). 

The largest liger population (30 individuals) is in the United States, followed by a population of 20 individuals in China.

A tigon is an offspring of a male tiger and a female lion.

The tigon weighs roughly 320 kilograms (705 pounds) and measures 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) long. 

On average, tigons are smaller than ligers and their parents because of the reciprocal gene effects. 

Today, tigons aren’t as common as ligers, although, in the 19th and 20th centuries, ligers were outnumbered.

Even though they can mate because they’re closely related, lions and tigers rarely breed in the wild, so hybrids are extremely rare. 

In captivity, however, interbreeding has gained more and more “popularity” in recent years because tourists have shown a keen interest in tiger-lion hybrids.

But do the species actually benefit from it? Not really.

Many hybrids are born with various illnesses or develop diseases throughout their lives that often cut their lifespan short. 

They are at risk of developing deformities, abnormal cranial structures, kidney problems, scoliosis, cataracts, and other issues.

Conclusion

Now that we’ve covered so many details about tigers and lions, we can finally acknowledge their uniqueness, skills, and ecological importance!

Unfortunately, both species have caught the attention of the IUCN Red List.

Tigers have been assessed as Endangered. The lion situation is assessed as Vulnerable.

Therefore, contributing to conservation efforts is of the essence, and raising awareness is among the best things we can do to help them survive.

Sources:

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