Tiger vs lion size comparison: are tigers bigger than lions?

Tiger vs lion size comparison

People love comparing the big cats, and tiger vs lion size is another part of this feline ‘rivalry.’ (Mostly created by humans – the two don’t interact in the wild.)

This time, we’re not deciding who’d win in a fight. We’re working out which is the biggest big cat. Leopards and jaguars are impressive, but can’t compete with these two heavyweights.

Feline bragging rights are at stake, so there’s a lot to consider. How are we measuring? What about sex and subspecies? Averages or extremes? Wild or captive animals?

Think the answer is obvious? Tiger vs lion size differences might surprise you. Read on to find out more about both fantastic felines.

Are Tigers Bigger Than Lions?

Huge Bengal tiger in Bandipur National Park, India

Are tigers bigger than lions? In general, probably. Specifically? Not always.

Tigers are, on average, the world’s biggest cats. That doesn’t mean all tigers are bigger than all lions.

In fact, the tiger vs lion size difference isn’t as big as many people think. There is a lot of overlap in size, and some tiger subspecies are smaller than some lions.

You probably weren’t thinking of a Sumatran tiger, though. (An average male only weighs about 120 kg. That’s smaller than most lionesses.)

Let’s get into the specifics of tiger vs lion size for a better idea.

Tiger and Lion Subspecies

Asiatic lions in playful mood, Gir Forest

Lions might be known as “King of the Jungle”, but tigers are the ones who live in rainforests. (Among other places.)

There is a small population of lions in the Gir forest, India. But the vast majority live in the African grasslands and savannas.

Lions in West and Central Africa (Panthera leo leo) are closely related to these Indian lions. Lions in Southern and Eastern Africa (Panthera leo melanochaita) are considered a separate subspecies.

Tigers have a more varied habitat, from southern Asian jungles and swamps to snow-covered Far Eastern forests.

There are several different tiger subspecies, but the two best-known are the Bengal tiger and the Siberian tiger (both Panthera tigris tigris).

These are the ones most people have in mind when discussing tiger size. So, let’s focus on them. (Apologies again to the Sumatran tiger.)

Tiger vs lion height

Huge male lion roaring, Chobe National Park, Botswana

The lion cuts an impressive figure. Males measure around 1.1 – 1.2 m at the shoulder, and their large manes can make them appear even taller.

Average male Bengal tigers and Siberian tigers are similar in height. Both average around 1 – 1.1 m tall at the shoulder.

Tiger vs lion length

Lions and tigers have a similar body length and tail length. Both Bengal and Siberian tigers are slightly longer on average, with a total length of almost 3 m for males. Male lions are slightly behind with an average of about 2.7 m.

Historically, the biggest tigers have also had a greater body length than the biggest lions. There are reports of tigers measuring over 4 m; these are likely exaggerations.

A large wild Bengal tiger, now on display at the Smithsonian, was 3.22 m in length. If you want to measure yourself against a tiger, that’s probably the safest way to do so!

Tiger vs lion weight

Siberian tiger running in the snow

Most people think tigers are much heavier than lions. It’s hard to give a single figure because most sources differ. Not to mention, lions and tigers in specific areas will vary in size.

It seems that the biggest tigers are usually heavier than the biggest lions. On the other hand, lions do sometimes outweigh tigers.

The Southern lion (Panthera leo melanochaita) is the larger of the two subspecies. Most seem to average about 190 – 200 kg, while large males can reach over 250 kg.

Exceptional specimens have exceeded 300 kg. Male Northern lions average about 150 – 190 kg.

Siberian tiger vs Bengal tiger weight

Large Bengal tigress facing the camera

Until recently, the consensus was that Siberian tigers were the largest cats on earth. Yet there was still a huge range in size. Before the 1970s, males usually weighed between 180 – 300 kg. The average was 215 kg.

A 2005 analysis found that a wild male now weighs just 176.4 kg on average. That was a small study from a specific area, though. Perhaps there are still larger ones out there.

Male Bengal tigers usually range from 175 – 265 kg, while large ones have been known to exceed 300 kg.

Seven adult males captured in the 1970s had an average weight of 235 kg. Bengal tigers in the Bangladesh Sundarbans are considerably smaller.

So, are Siberian tigers bigger than Bengal tigers? Are tigers bigger than lions? It depends when and where you carry out the study, I suppose! But it does seem like tigers can achieve larger sizes.

Tigress vs lioness size

Lioness with bloody face, Zambia

We’ve focused on the males because they’re the larger sex. But we can’t forget to mention female tiger vs lion size.

Lionesses and tigresses are fairly similar in size on average, with most somewhere between 120 – 160 kg. But female Bengal tigers in the Sundarbans are even smaller, at 75 – 80 kg.

Despite their smaller size, don’t underestimate these predators! Females of both species are skilled hunters and can take down large prey.

Tiger vs Lion Size in Captivity

Some of the confusion over tiger vs lion size probably comes from measuring captive animals. Since their territories don’t overlap in the wild, people only see them side-by-side in zoos.

Life in the wild is a struggle, and food is hard to come by. In a zoo, the cats get regular meals and less space to roam. This means captive lions and tigers often grow far larger than their wild counterparts.

In these conditions, tigers often grow larger than lions. Siberian tigers, especially, seem to have a larger upper size limit than either Bengal tigers or lions.

The largest captive tiger on record was a Siberian male called Jaipur. Jaipur was 3.32 m long from nose to tip and weighed a massive 423 kg!

However, this is a bit misleading. Big cats this size are almost certainly overweight. In the wild, they wouldn’t be able to catch prey with all the extra weight.

Tiger and Lion Hybrids Size

Female liger head portrait, Novosibirskiy Zoopark, Russia

Captive lions and tigers should be kept apart, but accidents (or poor practices) happen. When they’re lovers rather than fighters, this can lead to hybrids.

The offspring of a male lion and a female tiger is called a liger. The offspring of a male tiger and a female lion is a tigon.

The bigger of these two hybrids is the liger. The simple explanation for this is that lionesses have genes that inhibit growth, but tigresses don’t.

Because of this, ligers often grow much larger than either of their parents. The largest non-obese liger, Hercules, weighs 418.2 kg.

The existence of hybrids like ligers is controversial. There’s no record of them existing in the wild, and many people merely breed them for profit.

Cat experts argue that these hybrids are “pointless and unethical.” Most are in private hands, owned by people who use their size as a spectacle.

That means there’s an incentive to overfeed them – one obese liger weighed over 500 kg.

Ligers have no conservation value and don’t occur in the wild. It’s debatable whether we should be impressed by their large size.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better (For the Big Cat)

Bengal tiger hunting sambar deer in Ranthambore National Park, India

In the past, being bigger would be a good thing for male lions and tigers. They could fight off rivals and win mating rights.

Unfortunately, where some see a beautiful animal, others see a trophy. Both lions and tigers have suffered at the hands of hunters, who sought the biggest prizes.

When the biggest cats are taken out of the gene pool, it’s no surprise that today’s lions and tigers aren’t as big as their ancestors.

Being bigger also requires more energy. With human encroachment and habitat loss, big cats don’t always have as much prey to choose from. So, when times get tough, a larger size isn’t beneficial.

Huge lions and tigers are becoming ever rarer in the wild. Then again, so are small ones.

Lions have declined from 200,000 to just 20,000 in the last century. Tigers are even more endangered with just a few thousand left in the wild.

Both might disappear without better conservation efforts.

Check Out a Lion’s Size on Safari

Male lion and cub, yawning

You’re not going to see tigers and lions walking side by side in the wild. But one out of two isn’t bad.

Tiger vs lion size is interesting to know, yet more important is appreciating both these animals.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if a tiger is bigger than a lion or vice versa.

What matters is ensuring these majestic creatures still have a place to live in the wild.

Going on an African safari is a great chance of seeing lions in their natural habitat.

Get close enough, and you might get a sense of scale for Africa’s biggest cat.

Just remember that it’s rude to ask its weight!

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