One has been called “King of the Jungle” and “King of the Beasts.” The other has held the title of “world’s favorite animal.” For thousands of years, both have been revered as symbols of strength, courage, and power, and they’ve been referenced in books from the Bible to Winnie the Pooh. These two Goliaths duke it out for bragging rights. Buckle up for the “battle of the big cats— lion vs tiger.
Appearance – Lion vs Tiger
Lions are squarely-built, muscular cats with round, compact heads, short necks, and round ears. They are equipped with strong front legs, teeth, and jaws that are ideal for dragging prey to the ground and killing it.
A lion’s coat varies in color from buff to gold, silver, and dark brown—each in a different area of the body. Rare white lions are born with a recessive gene that produces blonde to off-white fur and blue eyes. All lions have tails that are tipped with a dark, swab-like tuft of hair that is not present at birth but develops at about 5 to 6 months old. In some lions, this tuft covers a bony spur made up of fused sections at the tip of the tailbone.
All of those physical traits contribute to the majestic appearance of the lion, but everyone knows the main reason the lion looks so regal and cool is its mane. The male lion’s mane begins to grow in when he is about a year old. Mane color and length vary, depending on environmental influences, such as average climate. Manes also darken with age and are indicators of testosterone production. Also, researchers have found that females prefer males with darker, fuller manes as mates.
In terms of physical size, the tiger is the largest of the “big cats.” Male tigers typically range from about 8.5 to 12.5 feet in length and weigh about 200 to 600 pounds. Females usually range in length from 6.5 to 9 feet and weigh between 140 and 370 pounds. They have large heads, tails half the length of their bodies, and most have a thick growth of hair framing their necks and jowls—a mini-mane of sorts. Like lions, they have muscular bodies, heavily padded paws, and strong forelegs built to quietly stalk and take down prey.
The most distinctive physical feature of the tiger is its coat. Vertical black stripes set against a bold background of varying shades of orange and brown, make the tiger one of the most beautiful animals in the world, but their unique markings serve a purpose—they provide the perfect camouflage in tall grass and vegetation. Like an optical illusion, the stripes blend into the vertical sequence of light and shade cast by the grass and trees. A tiger’s stripe pattern is as unique as fingerprints are amongst humans, and the stripes of each subspecies differ in thickness and shape.
There are several rare color variants within the species—white, stripeless (snow) white, golden, and black. White tigers possess a mutated gene that suppresses the production of pheomelanin, the pigment responsible for the orange coloring of most tigers. Black tigers are the product of pseudo-melanism. They aren’t really black, but their stripes are so close together that the background color can barely be seen. Golden tigers are a pale blond shade with ruddy brown stripes, while snow-white tigers have extremely pale stripes and faint, rust-colored rings around their tails.
Fun Fact: Lion cubs are born with spots that fade by the time they reach adulthood.
How does one become king of a place they’ve never lived in? We don’t know, and neither does the lion—“King of the Jungle”—whose title is rather inaccurate since the natural habitats of lions include the savannahs, grasslands, scrublands, and mountainous regions of sub- Saharan Africa, with one gravely endangered population in western India.
Lions have been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature since 1996. Vulnerable animals are those seen as likely to become endangered unless the factors threatening their survival and procreation improve. Today, there are only about 23,000 lions remaining in the wild. Major causes of population decline include loss of habitat, disease, climate change, the illegal wildlife trade, and insufficient regulation of the legal trade. In Africa, their numbers have decreased by about 90 percent in the past 100 years, but due to efforts by a number of conservation programs, populations are slowly climbing and in some regions, flourishing.
Once inhabiting areas ranging from Eastern Turkey to the border of Northeastern China and Russia, and from the Himalayas to the island of Bali, the original range of the tiger has decreased by 93 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. Today, tigers can be found in extremely fragmented areas from the tropical and subtropical forests of India and Sumatra, to the temperate forests of Siberia.
Although the tiger population has slowly increased in recent years, there are only about 3,800 wild tigers in existence. The IUCN lists four of the tiger subspecies as endangered, and two as critically endangered. Threats to their survival include habitat fragmentation and destruction, as well as poaching.
Fun Fact: Tigers and lions are known as charismatic megafauna, large animals with far-reaching appeal and symbolic reverence.
Hunting and Predation – Lion vs Tiger
Lions prey on a wide range of animals. For this reason, they are considered both alpha and keystone predators, and as such, they have no natural predators and directly affect their environment relative to their numbers.
The staple of the African lion’s diet is hooved mammals including (but not limited to) antelope, zebra, giraffe, and buffalo. Asian lions most frequently dine on deer, goats, cattle, and wild hogs. On occasion, lions kill other predators like hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs but rarely eat them.
For lack of a better phrase, females do the “lion’s share” of the hunting. Although lionesses sometimes hunt solo, they typically stalk large prey as a group, surrounding it while concealed within a grassy veil and waiting until the perfect moment to ambush the unsuspecting victim. When a male joins the hunt, the pride switches to a more direct approach. They corner the prey as a group, then the lion fights his opponent one-on-one until he kills it, incapacitates it, or he realizes he’s bitten off more than he can chew. If the hunt is successful, the male lion eats first, whether he was involved in the kill or not. The lionesses and cubs must carve out places for themselves at the table as they compete for the best cuts.
An apex predator, the tiger can make a meal of virtually any protein source, but its diet mainly consists of hooved mammals, including several species of deer, wild boar, and bison. Though smaller prey are like appetizers to a tiger, when they get the opportunity, they will pursue bite-sized offerings such as porcupines, monkeys, fish, and flightless birds. Other predators are also fair game. Leopards, crocodiles, bears, and pythons are among the hunters hunted by tigers.
Lion vs Tiger
It’s no surprise that the solitary tiger is also a solo hunter. Since they’re not exactly built for speed, they usually stalk and ambush their prey in the dark of night, overpowering their victims with their brute strength and size. Although extremely territorial, a mature tiger will sometimes share its meal with other tigers, including those not related to them, and males have been observed letting tigresses and cubs feed before they’ve finished eating.
Fun Fact: Although they are one of the most carnivorous species on earth, tigers sometimes eat plants to get the dietary fiber they need.
Lion vs Tiger Battle Royale
Since there’s no way to crown a clear-cut winner, we’re going to let you decide. Pick your faves as these fictional felids go head to head in a final round that we call the “Battle Royale.”
Simba or Tigger?
Tony or Leo (the MGM Lion)?
Alex or Hobbes?
Shere Khan or Scar?
*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you).