Tiger Shark vs Sand Tiger Shark: What are the Differences?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: September 6, 2022
Image Credit A-Z-Animals.com
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The tiger shark and the sand tiger shark have the word “tiger shark” in common and it wouldn’t be out of place for anyone to assume they are close relatives. However, it would interest anyone to know that tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks are actually not that closely related. While the sand tiger shark (Carcharias Taurus) belongs to the Odontaspididae family, the tiger shark(Galeocerdo cuvier) belongs to the Carcharhinidae family. Besides this, there are some more differences between these species and we shall be exploring some of them in this article alongside their peculiarities. Let’s dive in. 

Comparing Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark Sand Tiger Shark
SizeLength: 10-14ft
Weight: 850-1400lbs
Length: 6.6-10.5ft
Weight: 110-661lbs
Appearance Tiger-like stripes in juveniles, blue/green color and white/light yellow underbelly, sharp/serrated teeth, heterocercal tail. Grey dorsal surface, dirty white ventral side, anal and dorsal fins have the same size; razor-like teeth pointed snouts. 
Location and HabitatLocation: subtropical and tropic waters; Eastern coast of North America to the Eastern coast of Brazil.
Habitat: shallow coastline habitats, harbors, and estuaries. 
Location: Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. Warm seas excluding the Eastern pacific
Habitat: Temperate and tropical waters; shallow waters
DietCarnivorous; snakes, crustaceans, dugongs, mollusks, etcCarnivorous; bony fish, lobsters, squids, crabs, rays, and other small sharks 
Gestation Period and Litter Size Gestation Period: 13-16 months
Litter Size: 10-80 pups
Period: 8-12 months
Litter size: 1-2 pups
Lifespan27 years13-35 years 

Key Differences Between The Tiger Shark And The Sand Tiger Shark

Besides the previously-mentioned differences in name and family, the major differences between the tiger shark and the sand tiger shark can be seen in their size, appearance, and reproductive processes. We shall discuss these differences as well as other subtle ones as we proceed. 

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Size

Largest Tiger Shark- Tiger Shark Swimming
Tiger sharks can grow up to 14 feet long.

The tiger shark and the sand tiger shark differ greatly in size even though they are both large creatures. The tiger shark measures about 10 to 14 feet in length and weighs up to 850lbs while the sand tiger shark is about 6.6-10.5ft in length with a weight of 110-661lbs. These figures show that the tiger shark is levels above the sand tiger shark in terms of length and weight. 

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Appearance

The tiger shark and the sand tiger shark also differ in appearance to some extent as we are about to see. 

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Tiger sharks have a blue/green color, a white/yellow underbelly, and sharp and heavily serrated teeth. They also have heterocercal tails which means that the spinal column extends north into the upper lobe of the tail which makes it larger than the lower lobe. We should also mention that juvenile tiger sharks have tiger-like stripes that fade away when they become adults, which is probably where the “tiger” in their names came from. 

Sand tiger sharks, on the other hand, have a gray dorsal side and a dirty white-colored underbelly. They are also stout-bodied and have long, razor-like teeth that are visible even when closed, which makes them appear more dangerous than they actually are. One distinct physical feature of sand tiger sharks is the congruence in the size of the anal fin and the dorsal fins, which you don’t see often. 

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Location And Habitat

Tiger sharks love subtropical and tropical waters and they have been sighted on the coasts of many territories including North America, Mexico, the Gulf Of Mexico, Latin America, China, India, Africa, and Japan. Their preferred habitats include seagrass areas and shallow coastlines (where they spend 36% of their time). However, females have been observed in shallow areas more often than males. They also frequent harbors and estuaries. 

Sand tiger sharks exist in temperate and tropical waters in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They are also found in all warm seas except the Eastern Pacific. This includes the Western Atlantic, Eastern Atlantic, West Pacific, and South African coasts. Preferred habitats include surf zones, coral/rocky reefs, and shallow bays, although they have been found in waters with depths of up to 626ft. 

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Diet

A giant sand tiger shark swims in a cave.
As carnivores, sand tiger sharks include squids, stingrays, and lobsters in their diet.

Stefan Pircher/Shutterstock.com

If you have assumed tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks are both carnivorous, we are delighted to let you know you assumed right. Both species are predominantly carnivorous, although variations exist in their actual diets. Tiger sharks have diets comprising mollusks, birds, sea turtles, dugongs, snakes, and crustaceans. Sand tiger sharks, on the other hand, love squids, bony fishes, stingrays, lobsters, and crabs

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Gestation Period and Litter Size

There are some differences in the reproductive processes of tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks.

For one, tiger sharks are polygynandrous and they often have multiple mates in one breeding season. Most individuals mate once every three years and the females are ovoviviparous, meaning eggs hatch and are nourished right within their bodies. Gestation period is between 13-16 months and the litter size ranges from 10-80 pups, many of which do not attain adulthood. 

Meanwhile, sand tiger sharks are also ovoviviparous which means they do have something in common with their much larger counterparts. They also have a polygynandrous mating system which is worsened by a 2:1 male-to-female ratio. However, their litter size doesn’t exceed 2 pups and the gestation period is about 8-12 months which is a lot less than what is obtainable in tiger sharks. 

Tiger Shark Vs Sand Tiger Shark: Lifespan 

What do tiger sharks eat - feeding a tiger shark
Tiger sharks have an average lifespan of 27 years.

Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com

The tiger shark and the sand tiger shark also have some differences in their life expectancies. Tiger sharks are expected to live for an average of 27 years in the wild though some have cracked age 50. Those in captivity do not live as long. Their typical lifespan is 17 years. 

Sand tiger sharks, however, live for about 13-16 years in captivity and can go as long as 35 years in the wild. 

Tiger Sharks Vs Sand Tiger Sharks: Conservation Status

Tiger sharks and sand tiger sharks both feature on the IUCN red list. The tiger shark is considered “near threatened” while the sand tiger shark is in a lot more danger which is why it is listed as “critically endangered” on the list. 

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