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

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: July 15, 2021

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.

We’ll also throw in one more twist in the story – instead of a lion versus a tiger, consider a lion plus a tiger! Have you ever heard of a liger or a tigon? They’re not just characters in Saturday morning cartoons. Keep reading to meet these amazing animals.

Comparing Lions vs Tigers

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. Some have black or reddish tinges, and others are pure white.

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.

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.

Lion vs Tiger: Who Would Win in a Fight?

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

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.

Next Up: Termites vs Ants – The 6 Key Differences

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.