In A Nutshell
Tigers are the largest members of the cat family, and the subject of numerous, worldwide conservation efforts. There are several different subspecies of tiger (three have already gone extinct in this century), with the Siberian (or “Amur”) and the Bengal being the most commonly seen and spoken about. While they might look very similar, differences include size, habitat, and even their color.
The Whole Bushel
One of the most obvious differences is where they are found. The Bengal tiger is also known as the Indian tiger, as it found in scattered (now rather isolated) pockets throughout India. There are also Bengal tigers found in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan, and along the eastern coast of China. The climate here is temperate to tropical and very wet, with the tigers thriving in mangrove forests, grasslands, and deciduous forests.
The Siberian tiger’s natural habitat is the much, much colder areas to the north. The handful that still exist in the wild can mostly be found in the chilly forests of Eastern Russia, with some in the northernmost parts of China and Korea. In stark contrast to the more temperate habitats of its cousins, the Siberian tiger thrives in coniferous and birch forests where the temperatures can reach as low as -45° Celsius (-50 F).
The differences in habitat mean that the Siberian tiger has developed a much thicker, heavier coat than the Bengal. They also tend to have thick fat stores along their sides and belly that help to keep them insulated against the below-freezing temperatures.
There are also differences in color that developed from their different habitats. The Siberian tiger is the lightest of all tiger subspecies, with their coats tending to be a much paler orange than their southern cousins. The stripes of a Siberian tiger are brown instead of black, but all tigers share the trait of having completely unique stripe patterns, much like our fingerprints. While tigers are very fast over short distances, they use camouflage to stalk their prey; the drastic difference in color is necessary to keep them hidden in their different environments.
Siberian tigers are the bigger of the two subspecies, with males weighing up to 300 kilograms (675 lbs) and standing up to 0.9 meters (3 ft) at the shoulder. Bengal tigers tend to reach their max size at around 240 kilograms (525 lbs), while being slightly shorter. The females of both species are considerably smaller than the males.
Habitat differences also lead to a different diet, though both tiger subspecies are easily capable of single-handedly taking down prey that is much, much bigger than they are. The Siberian tiger tends to hunt creatures like elk and deer, but has been known to kill and eat bears as well as smaller game. The Bengal will hunt water buffalo, wild pigs, and other large, hoofed animals, even rhinos and elephants. Bengals that have been tagged and released show a wide hunting ground, covering up to 50 square kilometers (20 sq mi) in a single night’s hunt. The Siberian can cover twice that.
The Bengal is the least endangered of the tiger species, but that’s not necessarily something to be proud of. They could once be found throughout their South Asia habitat, but as of 2013 it’s estimated that there are only about 1,850 individuals left in the wild. The Siberian tiger, too, is being pushed out of their native habitat. While the harsh conditions they live in make it less likely that they’re going to encroach on someone’s territory, logging and deforestation—along with poaching—have left less than 500 individuals in the wild.