Lions vs Tigers – 5 Key Differences (And Who Would Win in a Fight)

Written by Heather Ross
Updated: September 10, 2022
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Key Points

  • Lions and tigers, both termed “big cats,” have overlapping ranges but seldom live in the same habitats.
  • Tigers are a 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? 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.

Other differences include the animals’ size and strength. If you’re here because you want to know which animal would win in a fight, these are the factors to consider.

Comparing Lions vs Tigers

LionTiger
ColorationSandy brown; occasionally reddish, tinged black, or whiteWhite or orange with black stripes
RangeAfrica, southern Europe, and AsiaAsia
Max Length208 cm (6.8 ft)390 cm (12.8 ft)
Max Weight225 kg (496 lb)300 kg (660 lb)
SociabilityPrides of up to 30Solitary

The 5 Key Differences Between Tigers and 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.

Lion vs Tiger: 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 between reddish-brown stripes. Black tigers have extremely thick stripes with little of the other colors showing through.

Lions may also vary in color. Most lion’s 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 sizes based on age and genetics. As the male lion ages, his mane grows darker as well as the tip of his tale. Cubs are a light color with brown spots, which will eventually fade.

Lion vs Tiger: 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.

Lion vs Tiger: 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.

Lion vs Tiger: 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 in from 265 to 395 pounds.

Lion vs Tiger: Sociability

Lions typically live and hunt in groups known as prides. 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.

Lion vs Tiger: Who Would Win in a Fight?

Tiger vs Lion - Who would win in a fight
Tiger vs. Lion: Take your bets

funstarts33/Shutterstock.com

As the two largest big cats, a common question is whether a tiger or lion would win in a fight. Today, the ranges of 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 stand off 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 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 in 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 Lions and Tigers 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.

Liger

A liger is the term of 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 do. 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.

Tigon

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’re unable to reproduce. However, there have been certain instances where a tigoness reproduced with a tiger to produce litigon offspring. Another case proved that a liger and lion mated, producing liliger offspring.

Summary: Lions vs Tigers

TraitLionTiger
ColorationGolden, sandy colored with faint spots
Males have thick, sometimes dark manes
Orange with black stripes
RangeAfrica
Some overlap Eurasia
Asia
Some overlap Eurasia
Length7 ft long2x length of lion – 13 ft long
Weight500 lb males660 lb males
SociabilityPrides – 30+ lions
Females hunt
Young, male bachelor groups
Solitary
Female territories may overlap with mother’s
Hunt alone

Up Next…

Now that you have satisfied your curiosity about this animal battle, check out the features below to see how some other well-known species stack up against each other.

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can Tigers Kill Lions?

According to a conservation charity called Save China’s Tigers, “Recent research indicates that the tiger is indeed stronger than the lion in terms of physical strength… A tiger is generally physically larger than a lion. Most experts would favor a Siberian and Bengal tiger over an African lion.”

Lions do have one advantage – they live and hunt in groups. Though smaller, lions have been known to “gang up” on a kill a lone tiger.

Which Is More Deadly, a Lion or Tiger?

Both lions and tigers have the ability to kill humans. It is estimated that lions kill about 250 people per year. Over the past 200 years, tigers have averaged around 1,800 deadly attacks on humans per year. This makes tigers the deadlier 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 distinctive stripes. Male lions have long manes. Lions also live in groups, a unique behavior among cats.

What Happens When You Cross a Lion and a Tiger?

These animals are closely related enough to produce offspring. A male lion and female tiger produce a liger, the largest of all cats. Because they lack a growth inhibitor gene, ligers can weigh over 1,200 pounds – twice that of a tiger! This animal has sandy fur with brown stripes.

A cross between a male tiger and a female lion is called a tigon. These animals resemble golden tigers and do not exceed their parents in size.

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

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