Types of Tigers Explained

Revered around the world for their raw power and majestic presence, tigers are awe-inspiring apex predators renowned as cunning, highly intelligent and ferociously independent animals. Each different tiger species has their own unique characteristics and here, we’ll tell you all about the different types of tigers.

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8 March 2022

The national animal of Bangladesh, India, South Korea and Malaysia, the tiger is perhaps the most popular and recognisable of the world’s charismatic megafauna.

They are iconic symbols of strength and courage and one of the planets’ most fascinating and complex creatures, but how many types of tigers are there? Read on to find out the answer.

Tigers May All Look Similar…

Male tiger, with intense eyes, at sunset (Photo: manushot via iStock)

Tigers are easily identifiable by their signature stripes, and they may all look similar from afar, but up close they are very different. The same goes for each of the different tiger breeds.

All come from the same species (Panthera tigris) but each of the different types of tigers is known as a subspecies.

A subspecies is a group within a species that is different from the rest, either physically or genetically, and there are nine different subspecies of tigers – six surviving and three sadly now extinct.

Siberian Tiger

The Siberian tiger in the snow (Photo: Tammi Mild via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris tigris
Also known as | Amur tiger, Manchurian tiger, Korean tiger, Ussurian tiger
Habitat | The Russian Far East, northeastern China, North Korea (possibly)
Length | Males up to 3.2 metres, females up to 2.7 metres
Weight | Males up to 300kg, females up to 180kg
Lifespan | 10-15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity
Remaining in the wild | Fewer than 600

The largest of all tiger species, the Siberian tiger has a much paler, thicker and longer coat in the harsh winter months and its markings are more yellow than orange compared to its mainland cousins further south. Although they are different types of tigers, the Siberian tiger is genetically close to the now extinct Caspian tiger. Even for experts it was extremely hard to tell them apart.

Bengal Tiger

Bengal Tiger in the forest (Photo: barbaraaaa via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris tigris
Also known as | Indian tiger, Royal Bengal tiger
Habitat | India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan
Length | Males up to 3.1 metres, females up to 2.4 metres
Weight | Males up to 275kg, females up to 175kg
Lifespan | 10-15 years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity
Remaining in the wild | Approximately 2,000

Bengal tigers are incredibly adaptive and live in tropical, subtropical and temperate rainforests, as well as grasslands, wetlands and mangroves. Their coats are a light orange colour and their bellies and the front-facing part of their limbs are white, for camouflage. Of all the types of tigers, the Bengal is second only in size to the Siberian tiger. There are unconfirmed tales of a male shot in the nineteenth century measuring a staggering 3.6 metres and weighing close to 400kg.

South China Tiger

A close up of the South China Tiger (Photo: anjf via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris tigris or Panthera tigris amoyensis
Also known as | Amoy tiger, Chinese tiger, Xiamen tiger
Habitat | Southwest China
Length | Males up to 2.5 metres, females up to 2.1 metres
Weight | Males up to 170kg, females up to 115kg
Lifespan | Up to15 years in the wild, around 20 years in captivity
Remaining in the wild | Now believed to be functionally extinct

The South China tiger has a very distinctive coat of a striking reddish-orange and it’s very long and narrow black stripes allow the tiger to stay camouflaged in the dense foliage of the southwestern Chinese forests. It is believed to be a relict population – that is the only direct descendent from the stem, or original tiger species – from which all other subspecies are derived.

Sunda Island Tiger

Sumatra Tiger looking for prey (Photo: africandesigns via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris sondaica or Panthera tigris sumatrae
Also known as | Sumatran tiger
Habitat | The Indonesian island of Sumatra
Length | Males up to 2.3 metres, females up to 2.1 metres
Weight | Males up to 140kg, females up to 110kg
Lifespan | Up to 15 years in the wild, around 20 years in captivity
Remaining in the wild | Between 250 and 400

For hundreds of thousands of years, all tiger species had the same genetic makeup. Yet between 12,000 and 6,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Sunda Island tigers were separated from mainland tigers and went on to develop their own genetic blueprint. The smallest of all tiger breeds, their fur is quite dark with a prominent ruff around their necks and they have far more stripes than the mainland tigers.

Malayan Tiger

Two young Malayan tigers fighting (Photo: miroslav_1 via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris jacksoni or Panthera tigris malayensis
Also known as | In Malay, ‘harimau’, meaning ‘tiger’
Habitat | The tropical central and northern Malaysian forests
Length | Males up to 2.8 metres, females up to 2.4 metres
Weight | Males up to 140kg, females up to 110kg
Lifespan | Between 12 – 18 years in the wild, over 20 years in captivity
Remaining in the wild | Between 150 and 300

With very long whiskers and piercing yellow eyes, the Malayan tiger has bright orange fur on it’s back, tail, face and head and a white underside and it is the smallest subspecies of mainland tiger. Malaysian people are so proud of their national animal that they call it Pak Belang which translates to ‘Uncle Stripes’!

Indochinese Tiger

Indochinese tiger surveying the land (Photo: BreakingTheWalls via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris tigris or Panthera tigris corbetti
Also known as | Corbett’s tiger
Habitat | Tropical and subtropical forests of Myanmar, Thailand & Laos
Length | Males up to 2.8 metres, females up to 2.5 metres
Weight | Males up to 195kg, females up to 130kg
Lifespan | Up to 15 years in the wild
Remaining in the wild | Approximately 350

The Indochinese tiger has a coat of bright orange – almost gold – fur as well as retractable claws and incredible night vision. It has a white belly and unlike the Bengal tiger which has the front-facing part of its limbs coloured white, the Indochinese tiger has the rear-facing part of it’s limbs coloured white. It is not part of a breeding program and it is believed that there are less than 10 of these types of tigers in zoos around the world.

Caspian Tiger

Tiger on the prowl (Photo: Sourabh Bharti via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris tigris
Also known as | Balkhash tiger, Hyrcanian tiger, Turanian tiger, Mazandaran tiger
Habitat | Wetlands of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the Caucasus and China
Length | Males up to 2.9 metres, females up to 2.6 metres
Weight | Males up to 240kg, females up to 135kg
Lifespan | 10 – 15 years in the wild
Remaining in the wild | Extinct since 2003

It is believed that the common ancestor of the Caspian and Siberian tigers colonised central Asia via the Silk Road from eastern China around 10,000 years ago. One of these types of tigers stayed in place and became known as the Caspian and an offshoot moved north and colonised the Russian Far East and Siberia. It’s stripes were a more brown or cinnamon colour and were narrower and closer-set and it is believed it had the thickest fur of all tiger species.

Javan Tiger

Close-up of a Sumatran tiger (Photo: DK Media via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris sondaica
Also known as | Sunda Island tiger
Habitat | Forested and mountainous areas of the Indonesian island of Java
Length | Males up to 2.6 metres, females up to 2.1 metres
Weight | Males up to 160kg, females up to 120kg
Lifespan | Up to 15 years in the wild
Remaining in the wild | Extinct since the 1980s

For its relatively small size, the Javan tiger was immensely powerful. It had a more pointed nose than the other mainland tiger species as well as long, narrow stripes. One of the now extinct tiger breeds, it is sometimes claimed that the Javan people would at times refer to tigers as ‘Mr Tiger’ for fear the animal might hear them and take revenge for being too familiar.

Bali Tiger

Ready to pounce (Photo: ewastudio via iStock)

Latin name | Panthera tigris sondaica or Panthera tigris balica
Also known as | In Malay, harimau Bali, literally ‘Bali tiger’
Habitat | Mangrove forests, dunes and savannah of Bali
Length | Males up to 2.3 metres, females up to 2.1 metres
Weight | Males up to 100kg, females up to 80kg
Lifespan | Up to 15 years in the wild
Remaining in the wild | Extinct since the 1950s

The smallest of the three extinct subspecies, the Bali tiger had very short fur and fewer, darker stripes interspersed with small black spots than either the Caspian or Javan tigers. One theory for its size is that they adapted to reduce their energy demands, making it easier to survive on the smaller prey such as wild pigs and small deer found on Bali.

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