The largest natural cat species on the planet is the Siberian Tiger (melanism causes white tigers not being Siberian, just as an aside – which becomes important later on) The males average 7-10.5 feet long, stand 48-60 inches high and weigh in at 300-600 pounds and females average 6-9.5 feet long, stand 30 inches tall, and weight 200-450 pounds. Bengal tigers are slightly smaller. Male lions tip the scales between 300 and 500 pounds, stand about 40 inches high, and are measuring about 6 feet long. They are the two largest cats in the world. And in the wild, they never meet. However, over the years the two have been breed in captivity. That’s where things get wonky.
Ligers (cat hybrids names are based on the species and the male/female pairings – the male goes first) are the pairing of a male lion and a female tiger. For some reason, Ligers are actually the biggest cats in the world. Ligers are normally over 600 pounds, stand close to 66 inches tall (5 feet, 6 inches), and have been known to get 12 feet long. As far as we know, only cats have the ability to upsize it’s offspring so dramatically. If you mate a donkey and a horse, you get a mule, but mules actually average between the size of a donkey and a horse (donkeys are the smaller of the two for all those that didn’t grow up in a state where the State animal is the Mule – thank god for Missouri?).
Tigons which are the offspring of female tigers and male lions are within normal range for female tigers, making them bigger than their fathers, but comparable to their mothers in size. Other not so natural cat species like Jaggers (jaguar/tiger), jagupards (jaguar/leopard), jaglions (jaguar/lion) share a similar upgrowth in size. In other words, jaguars which are the smallest of the pantheras, who mate with lions to have jaglions tend to have offspring bigger than their heritage should allow, normally a male jaglion will be roughly the same size as a male lion. Meaning it is bigger than it’s jaguar father and bigger than it’s lion mother.
More interesting, many lipard (lion/leopard) mixes are the size of female Bengal Tigers. Yet, neither the lion nor the leopard are as big as female Bengal Tigers. And continuing on the theme of bizarre, melanism (which is what creates spots, stripes, and other things like white tigers and black leopards and black jaguars) may play a role in the size of the animal. Melanistic jaguars, ie: black jaguars are normally on the “big” side of the range for jaguars. Same with leopards. While white Bengal and Siberian Tigers (leucistic tigers) are also on the upper ends of the range on size. Just as an FYI, lions can’t be melanistic (all black), but they can and do often carry leucistic genes and can be all white, and like their tiger cousins, they tend to be on the upper end for length, height, and weight range for lions.
Unfortunately, we don’t know why melanistic and leucistic genes create slightly larger animals. We do know that we haven’t been able to create leucistic ligers or tigons, despite both big cat breeds carrying the genes for it (leucistic lions are less common than leucistic tigers and leucistic is far less common than their melanistic cousins). Also, while there are rumors that melanistic tigers and lions exist, they haven’t been verified by science and melanistic jagupards and liguars haven’t happened.
I will say in closing, cougars do not carry the genes for either melanism or leucitism. And they also aren’t big cats. You can’t breed a lion and a cougar or a tiger and a cougar and contrary to popular myth in the US, cougars and jaguars can’t breed. The designation of big cat and small cat, is actually a hint at what a cat can breed with. In other words, you can’t breed your house cat with a tiger, no matter how cool you think it would be. The two are genetically different enough that even with a petri dish and lots of fancy lab equipment, that hybrid isn’t happening. Although, bobcats, ocelots, and wild cats, have been known to mate with domestic cats and that creates some pretty wild hybrids.
Okay, I’ll say one or two more things. You also can’t breed your house cat with a cougar even though both are technically “small cats.” Cougars are a weird thing. They are not actually related to any living cat species on the planet beyond 6th cousins twice removed on their father’s side, at which point they are just as much related to house cats as they are lions. Damn, I’ll just do a seperate post on cougars, because they are strange cats.