Lion vs Tiger – 5 Key Differences (And Who Will Win in a Fight)

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key point

  • Lions and tigers, both known as "big cats," have overlapping ranges but rarely live in the same habitat.
  • Tigers are burnt orange with black stripes, and lions are sandy brown with faint dark spots.
  • When a female tiger and a male lion mate, their offspring are called "ligers"!

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! This classic quote probably comes to mind when you think of the two largest cat species in the world – the lion and the tiger. How do you tell these big cats apart? What happens when you meet lions and tigers? Have a lion and a tiger ever fought? Will tiger vs. lion size be a factor in this epic fight? Who will win? Let's find out.

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lion vs tiger

There are several key differences between lions and tigers. The most obvious difference is their appearance, which we'll discuss in detail. Also, although their ranges overlap, lions and tigers don't usually live in the same places.

Other differences include the size and strength of tigers and lions. If you're here because you want to know which animal will win a fight, these are all factors to consider.

Comparing Tigers and Lions

lion tiger
coloring Sandy brown; occasionally red, black, or white white or orange with black stripes
scope Africa, Southern Europe and Asia Asia
longest length 208 cm (6.8 ft) 390 cm (12.8 ft)
maximum weight 225 kg (496 lb) 300 kg (660 lb)
sociability up to 30 pride solitary

5 Key Differences Between Tigers and Lions

Young lion playing with tiger cub
Even cubs. Lions and tigers have distinct color differences, especially stripes versus solid colors.

©Borkin Vadim/Shutterstock.com

In this discussion, we will focus on the African lion ( Panthera leo ) and tiger ( Panthera tigris ). Note that there are many subspecies, some of which are smaller than the animals discussed here.

Tiger and Lion: Coloring

Color is the easiest way to tell lions and tigers apart. Tigers have a distinct striped pattern, while lions are solid colors. Male lions also have a thick, shaggy mane around their necks. Lionesses and all tigers do not.

Variation does occur within each species. Tigers are usually orange or white with black stripes. In rare cases, white tigers may have brown stripes instead of black. The 'Snow Tiger' variant has very faint stripes and reddish stripes on its tail. The golden tiger has blond hair all over, with reddish-brown stripes. The stripes on the black tiger's body are very thick, and other colors can hardly be seen.

Lions can also vary in color. Most lions have brown, golden, or yellowish fur, while others are pure white. The male lion's mane can be black or reddish, or completely golden. The mane is shaggy and bushy on the lion's face and can vary in size depending on age and genetics. As a male lion ages, his mane and the tip of his tail will turn black. Pups are light colored with brown spots that will eventually fade.

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Siberian tiger sticking out tongue
Tigers are twice the length of lions, much heavier and are instantly recognizable by the black stripes on their orange fur

© Thorsten Spoerlein/Shutterstock.com

Tigers and Lions: Range

Most of the lion's range is in Africa, while most of the tiger's range is in Asia. This geographic distribution can help you determine which animal you're seeing.

However, there is some overlap between the ranges of Eurasia. Historically, the overlap is greater, and confrontations between wild lions and tigers do occur. Today, lions and tigers share habitat in only a small area of India and the Middle East.

Lion, Kalahari, South Africa
Lions are tawny and male lions are known for their distinctive manes

© Seyms Brugger/Shutterstock.com

Tigers and Lions: Length

Tigers are usually longer than lions – almost twice as long. Male lions reach a height of nearly 7 feet with their head and body, while male tigers reach a height of nearly 13 feet.

Tigers and Lions: Weight

Larger tigers are also heavier than lions. Male tigers can weigh up to 660 pounds, while male lions weigh less than 500 pounds. Female tigers typically weigh between 200 and 370 pounds. Lionesses typically weigh between 265 and 395 pounds.

Tigers and Lions: Social Skills

Lions usually live and hunt in groups called prides. Most of the hunting is done by females, and lion prides usually have only one adult male. These prides can house up to 30 lions. Young males may travel and hunt in small groups of three to five before establishing their own pride.

Tigers, on the other hand, are usually solitary. Tiger cubs establish their own territories as they approach adulthood. Young females' territories may overlap with those of their mothers for some time, but the animals do not hunt together.

Both species are known to be capable of extreme, dangerous attacks. It is estimated that tigers kill about 1,800 people a year on average worldwide. There have been reports of lions killing prey, such as hyenas, without even bothering to eat them. Top predators, such as lions and tigers, sometimes use hostile behavior to maintain dominance and remind other animals in their ecosystem who are at the top of the food chain.

pride of lion
Lions' social nature sets them apart from other cats

©Teresa Moore/Shutterstock.com

Tiger vs Lion: Who will win the fight?

Tiger vs Lion - who will win in the fight
Tigers vs Lions: Place your bets

© funstarts33/Shutterstock.com

As the largest of the two big cats, a common question is whether a fight is a tiger or a lion. Today, the ranges of the two animals do not overlap. Tigers live throughout Asia, while only a small number of lions exist on the African continent, and only in a single national park in India.

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However, with tigers spotted near this national park for the first time in 27 years, the "liger vs tiger" question may finally be coming to a face-off in the wild!

Most conflicts between lions and tigers occur in captivity. In a famous incident at the Ankara Zoo in 2010, a tiger entered the lion's exhibit. The fight didn't last long as the tiger cut the lion's neck with one swing. In 1914, another conflict between lions and tigers took place at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The fight lasted longer but had a similar outcome, with the tiger eventually breaking the lion's back.

So, the short answer is that in a fight between a lion and a tiger, the tiger usually has the upper hand and wins the fight.

However, keep in mind that these fights were in captivity, and in the wild where tigers live alone and lions live in packs, the results could be very different. A group of six male lions, nicknamed the Mapogo Lions Union, unite to control approximately 170,000 acres in South Africa. The Alliance killed over 100 competitors before their demise. In a battle between tigers and groups as ferocious as the Mapogo Alliance, our money is on the lions.

Can tigers and lions get along?

Considering that lions and tigers have the same but not necessarily intersecting ranges, this means they can easily coexist in the wild. Believe it or not, lions and tigers can reproduce! The offspring of these felines have different terms depending on the sex the lion and tiger mated with.

Liger

Liger is the collective name for the hybrid offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. The traits of each parent are displayed in the liger. They love swimming, like tigers, and are very sociable, like lions. Surprisingly, ligers grow larger than any of their feline cousins. Liger body coloring has faint tiger-like stripes and possibly faint spots derived from lion genes. Undertones include tan, sand or gold. In some cases, mating of white tigers with lions produces white ligers, which have light or no stripes at all.

The strongest cat - liger
Ligers have inherited their father's sociable nature and mother's love of water

© iStock.com/yod67

tiger tiger

Tigons, on the other hand, are the offspring of a hybrid between a male tiger and a female lion. Tigons may have spots similar to their lionesses, and their stripes also come from their tiger genes. Male tigons have shorter and less pronounced manes than typical lions. Growth-suppressing genes are passed on to these offspring so tigons don't grow larger than their parents.

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Originally, both ligers and tigons were considered sterile, meaning they were unable to reproduce. In some cases, however, tigresses breed with tigers to produce litigious offspring. Another case proved that a liger mated with a lion and produced liger offspring.

Although male tigers can grow manes, they are by no means as lush as male lions

©Igumnova Irina/Shutterstock.com

Summary: Tiger and Lion

feature lion tiger
coloring Golden, sandy, lightly spotted males have bushy, sometimes dark manes orange with black stripes
scope Some of Africa overlaps with Eurasia Some of Asia overlaps with Eurasia
length 7 feet long Twice as long as a lion – 13 feet long
weight 500 lb male 660 lb male
sociability Pride – 30+ lion females hunting young male singles group Lone female territory may overlap with mother's territory hunting alone

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lion vs tiger
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about the author

heather ross


Heather Ross is a middle school English teacher and mother of 2 people, 2 tuxedo cats and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading homework, she loves reading and writing about all things animals!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can a tiger beat a lion?

According to a conservation charity called Save China's Tigers, "Recent studies have shown that tigers are indeed physically stronger than lions…Tigers are generally physically larger than lions. Most experts prefer Siberian and Bengal tigers to African lion."

Lions do have one advantage – they live and hunt in packs. Although smaller in size, lions have been known to "gang up" to kill a lone tiger.

Which is more deadly, a lion or a tiger?

Both lions and tigers have the ability to kill humans. Lions are estimated to kill about 250 people each year. Over the past 200 years, tigers have averaged about 1,800 fatal attacks on humans each year. This makes the tiger the deadliest of the two.

What is the difference between a lion and a tiger?

Lions and tigers belong to the same genus but are different species. Tigers are larger than lions and have distinct stripes. The lion's mane is very long. Lions also live in groups, a behavior unique to felines.

What happens when you meet lions and tigers?

These animals are related enough to produce offspring. A male lion and a tigress give birth to a liger, the largest of all cats. Lacking growth-inhibiting genes, ligers can weigh over 1,200 pounds—twice as much as a tiger! This animal has sandy fur with brown stripes.

A hybrid of a male tiger and a female lion is called a tigon. These animals resemble golden tigers and are no bigger than their parents.

While it is possible for these hybrids to appear in the wild, it is not common. Ligers also have inherent health problems that can make them short-lived in the wild. Interestingly, it is a common misconception that tigons and ligers cannot reproduce.

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