What are tigons and ligers? In all simplicity, they are big cat hybrids that are the result of mating between tigers and lions. So, how exactly are they different if they have the same parents, i.e., a tiger and a lion? This is what we’ll discuss in this post further and walk you through (only virtually) the key differences between ligers and tigons.
Ligers vs. Tigons – The Difference
Below we’ll look at the differences between tigons and ligers based on multiple factors.
How they are bred
By definition, a liger is the hybrid produced by the mating of a MALE lion and a FEMALE tiger. We’re sure the names are confusing enough, so one easy way to understand how ligers are bred is by keeping in mind the gender of the parents.
In the case of many hybrids, the nomenclature is done on the basis of placing the male parent’s name (the first part of the name) first, followed by the female parent’s name (last part of the name.
The same is applicable to ligers, and since the male parent here is the lion, and the female parent a tiger, we have the name Liger (‘Li’ from Lion and ‘Ger’ from Tiger).
Ligers get the best of both parents and are considered to be one of the biggest cats in the world, growing to about 11 meters on average. With golden or sandy colors inherited by the lion and faint stripes that are a distinct feature of the tigers, ligers tend to be social animals.
A tigon is the offspring of a MALE tiger and a FEMALE lion and is often characterized by a light golden coat with a short mane around their neck that seems to be a ruff.
They show faint stripes similar to a tiger and are comparatively more or less the same height as that of a tiger. Tigons aren’t as gargantuan as ligers are, owing to the growth-inhibitory gene passed onto the offspring by the mother, i.e., the female lion.
Tigons follow the same nomenclature as ligers, with the male parent’s name forming the first part of the offspring’s name (Tig) and the female parent’s name forming the last part of the offspring’s name (on).
Physical Appearance (Colour, Appearance, Weight)
Ligers are huge and majestic cats; they inherit characters from both their lion and tiger parents. The ligers have spotted bellies and striped backs on their body with an orangish/golden color coat. Mane is not a significant physical feature – a liger may or may not have a mane. Some male ligers have a prominent mane development, while some are mane-less.
In order to lighten the color of the ligers to a very light golden color, white tigers are bred with lions. The male hybrid offspring have a leonine mane and facial ruff of a tiger, but it is not as large and defined as a lion’s mane. The Liger has great strength and massive size, which they have got from both of its parents.
The ligers can achieve a maximum speed of 50-60 miles per hour. The heads of the ligers are as broad as a human shoulder, their head is twice the size of a tigon’s head, and their big-sized head gives them a great biting force of 900 pounds. The ligers roar like both its parents, but their roar sounds more like a lion’s roar.
Due to their big size, the ligers require a lot of food; although they are capable of consuming more than 100 pounds of meat, they are provided with only 30 pounds of meat which keeps them in shape and prevents them from being fat. The massive body size and strong build of the ligers make them weigh around 900 pounds, while the tigers have a maximum weight of 600 pounds, and the lions can reach up to 500 pounds only.
The biggest Liger ever recorded was Hercules, and it weighed around 921 pounds. Hercules was rewarded as the biggest cat on planet earth by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The mating process in ligers is easier because the tigress’s womb can easily carry the hybrid fetus.
The tigons also exhibit the visible characteristics of both parents; they have the spots and markings from their mother (lion) and the stripes that they inherited from their father. The stripes on the fur of tigons are much darker than the stripes on a liger.
The male tigons have manes that appear short and less noticeable than that of a lion’s mane. They can roar like both a lion and a tiger. The overall appearance of the tigons is similar to a liger, including their fur color, mane, roar, and other characteristics.
The size of their head is similar to a lion or tiger, and their biting force is 450 pounds. They weigh around 400-500 pounds on average, while the tiger and the lions weigh around 400-600 pounds.
Their size and appearance depend on the subspecies that are being bred together. In some cases, the cubs may be stillborn, prematurely born, or unable to survive because of the small size of the mother.
The size of a mother’s womb is small in which it’s difficult for the cubs to develop and grow further. The premature cubs are prone to health issues like cancer and are unable to survive longer in most cases. The lifespan of most hybrids is less than that of the original species.
Panthera hybrids are highly vulnerable to injuries and certain disorders and diseases, especially neurological ones. Thus, unfortunately, ligers have a shorter lifespan than both their parents. The average life expectancy of ligers is between 13 to 18 years.
The decreased lifespan (although not universal) is owing to hybrid breeding risks that come along, such as cancer, deficits in the neurological system, arthritis, organ failure, etc.
There are instances where ligers have entered into their 20s, such as the ligress (female Liger) named Shasta died at the age of 24 in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. A liger named Hobbs lived for 15 years in Nevada before succumbing to organ failure. Nook, a male liger, died at the age of 21, and Hercules, the tallest cat hybrid (or cat, in general) is 20, and still alive.
Although not much data is available about a tigon’s lifespan, they are said to live an average of 15 years. Similar to ligers, tigons face multiple health risks during their lifetimes, such as organ failure, cancer, neurological vulnerabilities, and sterility.
The key difference between tigons and ligers is the height. Tigons are not as heighted as ligers, owing to the growth-inhibiting genes of the lioness. When it comes to reproduction in lions (not cross-breeding), the male lion has the genes that intend to maximize the growth of his offspring.
This is because the offspring needs to reign the territory in the future, ward off competition, etc. The genes of the female lions, on the other hand, have evolved to dampen the effect of the male lion’s gene on growth so that lions remain in a limited size range.
This is why, when a tiger is mated with a lioness, the growth-dampening genes stunt the growth of the offspring, i.e., the tigons. The reason why people are not interested in breeding tigons is that they don’t reach an impressive size, and breeding is not that easy.
The average body length of the tigons is 5-6 feet, and while standing on all four legs, they are 3-4 feet high to the shoulder.
Tigresses, unlike lionesses, do not have growth-inhibiting genes, which is why when they are mated with a lion (all of which have growth-maximizing genes), the offsprings, i.e., the ligers when reaching adulthood, are tall and much more heighted than most other cats in the world.
The average length of a liger standing on its hind legs is 12 feet, and they are considered the tallest cats among all big cats.
Occurrence and Population
Ligers are moderately populated and are found in a few countries of the world, which include the United States, China, Russia, Germany, South Korea, Italy, India, and Taiwan. The main purpose why ligers are bred in most countries is for the financial and research basis, while there are certain countries where breeding ligers is banned.
The United States of America is one of the leading breeders of ligers, and it has the maximum number of ligers of any other country in the world. Breeding of Ligers is legal in the United States of America, and the population can significantly increase up to 50 ligers in the USA.
Closely followed by the U.S. is China, where ligers are bred moderately. It was during 2002 when the first liger cub was born in China, but in a report, it was found that in 2010 China has more than 20 ligers. China also holds a world record when one of the tigresses gave birth to 12 ligers in China.
The country following China in terms of hybrid breeding is Germany. There are a total number of 9 ligers in zoos and captivity in Germany.
And lastly, India, which is believed to be the place of origin of both tigons and ligers, has a few ligers too.
Tigons can be found in almost more than nine countries of the world, and they are owned by the zoos, menageries, animal sanctuaries, and circuses of these countries. According to the sources, although the USA has more ligers than tigons, it has more tigon zoos than any other country.
The reason why the USA is more interested in the breeding of the ligers is their huge size. While there are countries like the United States of America (USA), China, Russia, Iran, India, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Argentina, and the Czech Republic where tigons are bred, Taiwan is the only country where tigon breeding is banned.
In India, the lion-tiger hybrid has been known to breed since the early 19th century. A color plate of the lion-tiger hybrid was made by Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844) in the year 1798.
There were two liger cubs born in 1937, who were later exhibited to King William IV and to his successor Queen Victoria. Carl Hagenbeck wrote about the ligers born at Hagenbeck’s Tierpark in Hamburg in 1897 to the zoologist James Cossar Ewart stating all the details of the ligers with their photograph. In 1935, four ligers were born in the Zoological Gardens of Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Although today the number of ligers around the world is more than that of tigons, ligers were regarded to be a rarer hybrid than the tigon back in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The place of origin of tigons is still a debatable question, but the safest bet is that Tigons, like Ligers, emerged from India. The origin and history of tigons date back to the 1920s when the Tigons were gifted to English royalty – the British Royal Highness by Indian officials.
Once they were transported to England, we found multiple instances of stories and publications on Tigons in several English newspapers. One of the publications dates back to 1924, in ‘The Illustrated London News’ (the oldest archive found on Tigons from an English newspaper). There were other publications that date back to the 1930s and 1940s, which was the time when there were tigons residing in two of England’s most famous zoos – The Manchester Zoo and the London Zoo.
A tigon named Maude that lived for 13 years between 1936 to 1949 has its body preserved in England’s Manchester Museum.
Ti-Tigons and Li-Ligers
A Ti-Tigon is the second-generation hybrid offspring of a FEMALE tigon and a MALE tiger.
Similarly, a Li-Liger is the second generation hybrid offspring of a FEMALE liger and a MALE lion.
There are second-generation hybrids between tigons and lions, as well as ligers and tigers too.
A Li-Tigon is the offspring of a MALE lion and a FEMALE tigon. On the other hand, a Ti-Liger is the offspring of a MALE tiger and a FEMALE liger.
All second-generation hybrids are rare, but there have been a few instances of second-generation hybrids being bred in captivity.
For a long time, tigons and ligers were thought to be sterile, but it turned out that it is only the male hybrids that are sterile, but the female hybrids are not. Although there have been multiple occasions where the female hybrids have turned out to be infertile, too, it is consequently the male hybrids that are incapable of reproduction.
The fertility of the female Tigons and Ligers was first proved in 1943 when a 15-year-old female tigon/liger (unconfirmed whether it was a liger or a tigon) was mated with a lion, which successfully led to the reproduction of a second-generation hybrid.
In 2012, a female liger and a male lion were mated, and the offspring was a Li-Liger female cub that was named Kiara.
Are Tigons and Ligers found in the wild?
No, as of so far, we have not come across any instances of liger or tigon offspring that have been bred naturally in the wild. Tigons and Ligers do not exist in the wild and have only ever been bred in captivity in zoos across the world in Germany, France, China, etc.
The primary reason behind this is the fact that, although there is a chance of natural breeding between tigers and lions, they are separated by geography, and their habitats and ecosystems do not overlap.
Other big cat hybrids:
Now that you know the portmanteau conventions and the most common hybrids of the Panthera order (the Tigons and Ligers), here is a quick list of other big cat hybrids.
- Jaglion: A jaglion is the hybrid produced by cross-breeding of a MALE jaguar and a FEMALE lion. With the powerful and robust muscular structure of a jaguar and the colors of a lion in the background, a jaglion is a truly mesmerizing hybrid. Although they are not a species, they for sure are endangered and not so commonly bred as a liger or a tigon. There are only 2 jaglions known so far. There is a possibility that there may be more jaglions, those that exist in the wild; however, it would be safe to say that since a jaguar and a lion’s habitats don’t overlap, jaglions in the wild may not exist at all.
- Jagger: A Jagger is the offspring of a MALE jaguar and a FEMALE tiger. Jaggers are not as common as jaglions; in fact, it is believed that no successful mating of a jaguar and a tigress is achieved so far, which means we do not have much information available on how a jagger would look. They are a possible Panthera hybrid and have been named according to the portmanteau conventions.
- Jagupard: A jagupard is the result of cross-breeding between the Panthera species of Jaguars and Leopards. In the case of Jagupards, the MALE parent is the Jaguar, and the FEMALE parent is a leopard. Again, a jagupard is not a common hybrid, and there is only one instance of a jagupard hybrid, where the offspring was a result of captive breeding in Austria at a zoo named Hellbrunn Zoo at Salzburg.
- Leopon: Leopons have successfully been bred in countries such as Germany, Japan, and Italy. A leopon is the offspring of a MALE leopard and a FEMALE lion. However, the leopon bred in Italy is the reverse offspring, i.e., the father was a lion, and the mother was a leopard. Leopons have a mane of medium length around their neck which makes their bust similar to a lion. The rest of the body resembles that of a leopard with spots all over the body. Leopons do not have a very long lifespan; in fact, leopons live shorter than both parents, with a life expectancy of about 13 years. If raised well, they may live as long as 20 years in captivity. As for most other hybrids, leopons don’t occur in the wild and are bred in captivity.
- Leguar: A leguar, also known as a lepjag is the result of cross-breeding between a MALE leopard and a FEMALE jaguar. Leguars are not as common a hybrid as leopons. The offspring is likely to be fertile, but not much is known about these Panthera hybrids.
- Leoger: A leoger is an offspring of a MALE leopard and a FEMALE tiger. Leogers have a sad history, and we do not have much on their habitat, life expectancy, diet, and social behavior, since there has been no successful breeding so far. Any leoger that has ever been attempted to be bred in captivity is stillborn. They are estimated to closely resemble tigards.
- Liguar: A liguar is the offspring of a MALE lion and a FEMALE jaguar (also known as a jaguaress). Liguars are the most common lion and jaguar hybrids. The liguars can be considered as contrary hybrids of jaglions that share a MALE jaguar parent and a female LION parent.
- Lipard: A lipard, also commonly known as a liar, is the hybrid offspring of a MALE lion and a FEMALE leopard. Needless to say, they are contrary hybrids of leopons.
- Tiguar: A tiguar is the offspring of a MALE tiger and a FEMALE jaguar or jaguaress. A tiguar gets the best of both parents and shares similarities to both a tiger and a jaguar (obviously). For a long time, it was believed that no tiguars exist, and they are only a possible Panthera hybrid. However, some sources say that successful tiguar breeding has been done in Altiplano Zoo in Mexico.
- Tigard: A Tigard is a result of captive breeding (since natural breeding doesn’t occur within the parent species) between a MALE tiger and a FEMALE leopard. Unfortunately, the only Tigard ever attempted to be bred was in 1990 that was still born. The stillborn shared the mixed characteristics of both the parents on the body with stripes, rosettes and spots.
- Pumpard: A pumpard, interestingly, is the hybrid of a MALE cougar or a puma and a FEMALE leopard. There have been three successful breedings of pumpards by Carl Hagenbeck. Although most of these hybrids died before reaching adulthood, they tended to be dwarf and shorter than both parents in terms of height. Pumpards have a muzzle similar to the puma and dark solid blotches that resemble the leopard.