The tiger (Panthera tigris) is a mammal of the Felidae family, one of four "big cats" in the Panthera genus. Native to the mainland of southeastern Asia, the tiger is an apex predator and the largest feline species in the world, comparable in size to the biggest fossil felids. The Bengal Tiger is the most common subspecies of tiger, constituting approximately 80% of the entire tiger population, and is found in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal. It is the national animal of India. An endangered species, the majority of the world's tigers now live in captivity.
The tiger is solitary and territorial, preferring cover in
deep forest, but also ranging in open areas. The cat hunts by
stalk-and-ambush and may take a variety of mid- and large-sized
prey, particularly ungulates. Males are much larger than females
and have larger home ranges. Amongst the nine extant tiger
subspecies, there is significant size variation.
Tigers are the heaviest cats found in the wild, but the subspecies differ strongly in size. Large male Siberian Tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) can reach a total length of 3.5 m and a weight of 300 kg. Apart of those exceptional large individuals, male siberian tigers usually have a head and body length of 190220 cm and an average weight of 250 kg. (The tail of a tiger is 60110 cm long.) The heaviest Indian Tiger (P. t. tigris), which is confirmed through reliable sources weighed 258 kg (570 lb). Reports of tigers weighing far more than 300 kg are mentioned in literature, but none of these cases is confirmed. Females are smaller, those of the Siberian or Indian subspecies weigh only between 100 and 167 kg. Isle tigers like the sumatran subspecies (P. t. sumatrae) are much smaller than mainland tigers and weigh usually only 100140 kg in males and 75110 kg in females. The extinct bali tiger (P. t. balica) was even smaller with a weight of 90100 kg in males and 6580 kg in females.
Tigers have rusty-reddish to brown-rusty coats, a fair (whitish) medial and ventral area and stripes that vary from brown or hay to pure black. The form and density of stripes differs between subspecies, but most tigers have in excess of 100 stripes. The pattern of stripes is unique to each animal, and thus could potentially be used to identify individuals, much in the same way as fingerprints are used to identify people. This is not, however, a preferred method of identification, due to the difficulty of recording the stripe pattern of a wild tiger. It seems likely that the function of stripes is camouflage, serving to hide these animals from their prey. The stripe pattern is found on a tiger's skin and if shaved, its distinctive camouflage pattern would be preserved.
Like most cats, tigers are believed to have some degree of color vision.
There is a well-known mutation that produces the white tiger, an animal which is rare in the wild, but widely bred in zoos due to its popularity. The white tiger is not a separate sub-species, but only a color variation. There are also unconfirmed reports of a "blue" or slate-colored tiger, and largely or totally black tigers, and these are assumed, if real, to be intermittent mutations rather than distinct species. Similar to the lion, the tiger has the ability to roar.
Adult tigers are territorial and fiercely defensive. The size
of a tigers home range mainly depends on prey abundance and in
case of male tigers on access to females. A tigress may have a
territory of 20 km² while the territories of males are much
larger, covering 60100 km². While females can at times be
aggressive towards other females, their territories can overlap
and they do tolerate each other. Males on the other hand are
usually intolerant of other males within their territory unless
they are just passing by. Because of their aggressive nature,
territorial disputes can be violent and may end in the death of
one of the males, though deaths are uncommon. Most encounters
between tigers end without physical incident. To identify his
territory the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland
secretions on trees as well as by marking trails with scat.
Males show a behavior called flehmen, a grimacing face, when
identifying a female's reproductive condition by sniffing their
Male tigers can mingle easily with females in their territories and will even share kills. George Schaller observed a male tiger share a kill with two females and four cubs. Females are often reluctant to let males near their cubs, but Schaller saw that these females made no effort to protect or keep their cubs from the male. This suggest that the male might have been the father of the cubs. In contrast to male lions, male tigers will allow the females and cubs to feed on the kill first. Females will also share kills, even more so than the males. They are also much more tolerate of sharing kills with individuals of the same sex.
Tigers have been studied in the wild using a variety of techniques. The populations of tigers were estimated in the past using plaster casts of their pugmarks. In recent times, camera trapping has been used instead. Newer techniques based on DNA from their scat are also being evaluated. Radio collaring has also been a popular approach to tracking them for study in the wild.
A female is only receptive for a few days and mating is frequent during that time period. A pair will copulate frequently and noisily, like other cats. The gestation period is 103 days and 34 cubs of about 1 kg (2 lb) each are born. The females rear them alone. Wandering male tigers may kill cubs to make the female receptive. At 8 weeks, the cubs are ready to follow their mother out of the den. The cubs become independent around 18 months of age, but it is not until they are around 22½ years old that they leave their mother. The cubs reach sexual maturity by 34 years of age. The female tigers generally own territory near their mother, while males tend to wander in search of territory, which they acquire by fighting and eliminating another male. Over the course of her life, a female tiger will give birth to an approximately equal number of male and female cubs. Tigers breed well in captivity, and the captive population in the United States may rival the wild population of the world.
Tigers are found in a variety of habitats, from tropical rainforests and boreal forests to dry savannas as they are found in Ranthambore National Park. Compared to the lion, the tiger prefers more dense vegetation, for which its camouflage is ideally suited, and where a single predator is not at a disadvantage compared to a pride. Among the big cats, only the tiger and jaguar are strong swimmers; tigers are often found bathing in ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Tiger dentition. The large canines are used to make the killing bite, but they tear meat when feeding using the carnassial teethIn the wild, tigers mostly feed on larger and medium sized ungulates. Sambar, chital, wild boar and nilgai are the tiger's favored prey in India. In Siberia the main prey species are Mandchurian elk, wild boar, sika deer, roe deer and musk deer. In Sumatra; Rusa deer, wild boar and Malayan tapir are preyed on. Tigers also prey on large herbivores like water buffalos, gaurs and moose. Like many predators, they are opportunistic and will eat much smaller prey such as as monkeys, peacocks, hares and fish.
They also may kill such formidable predators as canids, leopards, and pythons. Tigers have been known to kill even crocodiles on occasion, although predation is rare and the predators typically avoid one another. Siberian tigers and brown bears are a serious threat to each other; however, tigers kill bear cubs and even ambush adult brown bears. Bears (Asiatic black bears and brown bears) make up 5-8% of the tigers diet in the Russian Far East. Sloth bears of are quite aggressive and will sometimes drive tigers away from their kills altough the opposite happens as well and in some cases Indian tigers even prey on sloth bears.
Adult elephants are too dangerous to tigers to serve as common prey, but conflicts between elephants and tigers do sometimes take place. A case where a tiger killed an adult female Indian rhino has been observed Young elephant and rhino calves are occasionally taken.
Tigers sometimes prey on domestic animals such as dogs, cows, horses and donkeys. These individuals are termed cattle-lifters or cattle-killers in contrast to typical game-killers. Especially old and injured tigers have have been known to attack humans and are then termed as man-eaters, which often leads to them being captured, shot or poisoned. The Sundarbans mangrove swamps of Bengal, where some healthy tigers have been known to hunt humans, have had a higher incidence of man-eaters.
In all of their range, tigers are the top predators and do not compete with other carnivores other than the dhole or Indian wild dog, which makes up for its relative lack of strength by numbers.
Tigers hunt alone and prefer medium to large sized herbivores.
They ambush their prey as other cats do, overpowering them from
any angle, using their body size and strength to knock large
prey off balance. Even with their great masses, tigers can reach
speeds of about 60 km/h (37 mph). Tigers prefer to bite the
throats of large prey and it uses its muscled forelimbs to hold
onto the prey, bringing it to the ground. The tiger remains
latched onto the neck until its prey dies. With small prey, the
tiger bites the nape, often breaking the spinal cord, piercing
the windpipe, or severing the jugular vein or carotid artery.
The prey is killed instantly.
In the wild, tigers can leap as high as 5 m (16 ft) and as far as 910 m (3033 ft), making them one of the highest-jumping mammals (just slightly behind cougars in jumping ability).
They have been reported to carry domestic livestock weighing 50 kg (110 lb) while easily jumping over fences 2 m (6 ft 6 in) high. Their heavily muscled forelimbs are used to hold tightly onto the prey and to avoid being dislodged, especially by large prey such as gaurs. Gaurs and water buffalos weighing over a ton have been killed by tigers weighing about a sixth as much. The combination of claws and power behind a tiger's paws enables it to kill an adult human with one swipe.
This Tiger Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub