An Introduction to Tigers

Source: A&W MagazineBengal Tiger


The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest of the four big cats, and one that is very fascinating to people all over the world.

 Tigers are fierce predators with a calculated intelligence that makes them one of the leaders out there in their natural environment. They have been able to successfully evolve from ancient tigers for almost 2 million years and they have keep continually adapting well to their surroundings.

Most people easily recognize the tiger due to the stripes found on their bodies. These patterns of white and black stripes create very interesting and unique patterns. They give the tiger a coloring that helps them to camouflage amongst the shadow of the long grass.

World Tiger Species

Tiger Subspecies

An overview of tiger subspecies. There are six subspecies of tigers – Bengal tiger, Siberian tiger,

Sumatran tiger, Malayan tiger, Indo-chinese tiger,  South china tiger.

Bengal Tiger

(Panthera tigris tigris)

The Bengal tiger is found in India as well as Bangladesh and it is known to live both in the heated areas of desert and the grasslands where it is wet and cool.


Siberian Tiger (Amur Tiger)

(Panthera tigris altaica)

The Siberian tiger is the largest of all tigers. As its name implies, it inhabits the region of Siberia in Russia.

Sumatran Tiger

(Panthera tigris sumatrae)

You will find the Sumatran Tiger in the island of Sumatra. The Sumatran Tiger is smaller than other species of tigers.


Malayan Tiger

(Panthera tigris jacksoni)

The Malayan Tiger is only found around the Malayan Peninsula which is where the name comes from. The Malayan tiger is the national animal of Malaysia.

Indochinese Tiger

(Panthera tigris corbetti)

The Indochinese Tiger is found in areas of Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Cambodia.

South China Tiger

(Panthera tigris amoyensis)

The South China Tiger features a very vibrant color of orange with black stripes on it.

Extinct Tiger Species

The Balinese Tiger became extinct in 1937 and until that time they resided on the Island of Bali.

In the 1950’s the Caspian Tiger became extinct.

Tiger Evolution

Tiger Fossils


he earliest found remains of tigers come from China and they are dated at more than 2 million years old. These early fossil remains indicate that the tiger was much smaller then than it is today. However, it is strongly believed that the tiger is related to the Saber Tooth from about 35 million years ago. They evolved into some subspecies about 25 million years ago and that is where the tiger fits in.

It is believed that the South China Tiger is one that the various subspecies have all evolved from. This information is based upon scientific research and DNA testing. Sadly, this particular tiger is very limited in numbers and many experts feel it will be extinct in 10 years or less. Hopefully positive efforts and conservation can prevent that from occurring.

However, genetic profiling also shows that the Sumatran Tiger is very different from the other species out there. The theory is that they were isolated from other tigers more than 12 million years ago due to a rise in the sea level. As a result their genetic profile as a species is more unique that that of others.

It is believed that the Bengal Tigers moved into the area we now call India about 12 million years ago as well. That indicates that something major was going on regarding the surface area of the Earth. The tigers had to move to new locations in order to continue surviving. They are protected in India but poaching continues as does poisoning them by ranchers that are tired of their livestock being killed.

What is fascinating is that tigers have been able to survive so much in the past. However, because of the choices of humans that is becoming more and more difficult for them to do so. If we don’t work harder to protect these animals then they will soon be something of the past. We won’t have anything but fossils to work with in regards to them. We won’t be able to benefit from them to learn from or their contribution to the ecosystem. That is all a great deal to think about, but a burden that should encourage you to take action.

It is hopeful that more questions that we have about the evolution of tigers will be answered in the future. As new technology emerges and new fossils are discovered the puzzle pieces will fit better. New theories will emerge and old ones will be credited or disproved. There is no denying that the evolution of tigers has a fascinating story behind it. We just don’t know what all of the

pages of that story have to say to us yet.

Many researchers are holding out for the day when we find those fossils that are much older than 2 million years. Then we can get huge input to what they looked like and how they evolved to be the cats we know and love today. In the mean time we can only speculate about what all was roaming the Earth back then and the actual form that cats had in it.

It is believed that more subspecies of tigers may have existed at some point. There is still a great deal of information to uncover about the past for the tiger. One of the many reasons why we have limited information though is due to the priority of protecting the tigers we have left from extinction. The time and money available is best spent helping to see their numbers increasing rather than allowing them to become a part of the past as well.


Tiger Anatomy

Tiger Physical Characteristics

The tiger has a body design that allows it to move along gracefully. They are also extremely fast when it comes to hunting their prey and getting themselves out of the way of danger. A full grown tiger can be up to 11 feet in length and weight as much as 670 pounds. They have a very muscular build too which helps them to take down prey that is many types heavier than they are. The females are generally smaller than the males for all of the different species of tigers.

One of the most distinct characteristics of the tiger are the stripes found on the body. The coat is an orangish color with stripes of black and white found on it. If you study the stripes of tigers you will quickly realize that each one has its own distinct pattern. This is how researchers are able to identify them during observation in a natural habitat setting. Their coat is similar to the way our own fingerprints makes each one of use unique.

The way in which their stripes are offered though serves a purpose that is well beyond basic identification. It is the way in which they are able to successfully hide in the wild from predators. It is also one of the most useful tools that they naturally have for sneaking up on their own prey.

Not all tigers are orange in colour which is also interesting to learn about. For example the white tigers that feature black stripes and blue eyes certainly do get the attention of people. This is due to a mutation in the colouring and it rarely occurs in the wild. However, due to the popularity of them they are intentionally bred in zoos all over the world.

In addition, very powerful jaws with razor sharp teeth are found in the mouths of these big cats. There are about 30 teeth found in the mouth of a tiger. As a tiger gets older these teeth can wear out though. That is when a tiger will have a hard time living in the wild and may even starve to death.

The claws of a tiger are extremely sharp. They have five claws on each foot and the first one never touches the ground. They can often be seen in the wild scratching their claws against trees. They have a sheath that covers their claws so that they don’t get exposed and worn out when they don’t need to use them.

Both the legs and the shoulder regions of tigers are extremely muscular and powerful. This gives them the ability to control various types of prey instantly. They also have paws that are very wide which helps them to climb and to grasp things. The paws of the males are generally much larger than those of the females.

The hind legs are also longer then the front ones which also help with the ability to jump so well.

One significant advantage that the tiger has is their eyesight. They can see just as well as humans during the day. However, at night their abilities are 6 times what we can see. This definitely makes it much easier for them to sneak up on their prey. The design of their eyes is why they can see so much better at night. They have larger pupils as well as lenses.

Ruthless Hunters

Tigers are extremely ferocious when it comes to hunting. However, they don’t always make the kill as you would expect them to. When they are able to sneak up on prey they only have a few seconds to pounce and to kill them by biting them in the neck area. They can take down animals much larger than themselves if they are healthy and they are good hunters.

Tigers tend to be loners so you won’t see them hunting in groups as you do lions. However, they have been known to share their prey with others which is a good indication that they do communicate with each other on different levels. Tigers are able to leap more than 30 feet which definitely gives them an advantage when it comes to finding and attacking their prey.

Tigers tend to go their own ways except when they wish to mate with each other. After mating they go their own way. The female will find a den for her cubs to be born in. This takes place approximately 16 weeks after conception. The cubs are blind at birth and she will feed them milk from her body for about 8 weeks before they venture outside of the den with her. She may have from 3 to 4 cubs at a time.

There are 6 out of 9 recent subspecies of tigers left on Earth. How long they will be able to survive though is in question. Right now all 6 of these remaining species are considered to be endangered.

Even with conservation efforts in place the future for them seems very uncertain. There are still many significant changes that must take place if they are going to be able to get their numbers up enough to have strong hopes of survival.

Tiger Communication


Tiger Vocalizations


Tigers have a number of ways in which they communicate with each other. If you have a domestic cat then you are already familiar with several of them. For example they may arch their backs and put out the claws when they feel threatened or they are ready to fight. This is a great way to get other tigers and other animals in the area to back away from them so they don’t have to engage in a fight. They would rather warn them instead of engaging in fighting.

They can be seen with their ears back, their heads up high, the paws in place, and the teeth showing. These are all prime indicators that the tiger is ready to pounce on something that it has seen. If they are merely curious though about other animals or tigers in the area they will have their ears up and their tail held up high instead of the normal low laying position. This shows that they are on alert but not feeling threatened at that time.

The tail has a scent gland found it that they may rub on each other as well. This type of communication is used to help them recognize each other. It can also be used by males and females should they decide to take part in mating with each other. There are also glands found between the toes that can leave scents as well. In fact, this is how the females will communicate to the males that they are in estrus which is the frame of time when their bodies are ready to mate.

They are also verbal communicators as well. Some people assume that the roar is only something that the lion does but it is also one of the tiger as well. The males may use it to find mates or to warn other males to get out of their territory. Due to the amazing sense of hearing they have, it is believed that these roars can be heard up to 2 miles in distance. This means they can draw other tigers that live in the area but that aren’t in their immediate territory.

Moaning is another type of communication that tigers use. This is believed to be a type of gentle coaxing. The mothers are often going to use it to get their young to follow their directions and to try new things. Males may use moaning during the courting process to help the females feel more relaxed. This helps them to feel wowed instead of threatened.

They will often be heard snarling when they feel they are in danger. A mother is very likely to use this form of communication to keep other animals and even tiger males away from her offspring. Snarling and hissing are common too when other tigers are attempting to cash in on a meal that another has claimed as their own.

Purring is the type of communication that most people are familiar with when it comes to the tiger. This is generally believed to be a sign of contentment.

Due to the isolated regions where tigers generally reside, there is still a great deal we don’t know about their communication. Those in captivity are generally fine with living in a group of two at the most. More than that though is going to create issues with tigers being harmed or killed. Even in a zoo setting you will find that they tend to leave each other alone and to have their own territory that they cover in the shared area.

Tiger Habitat

Tiger Habitat and Distribution

The tiger is native to Asia from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia in the north and Indonesia and even in Borneo and the Philippines in the south. Tigers use to had a huge habitat because they are able to adapt to different types of environments which range from the Siberian taiga to open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. However as it can be seen on the map, their habitat has been reduced dramatically.

Tigers will look for three things in abundance when looking for habitat

Tigers are extremely territorial though so they will fight other animals and other tigers that invade their space. This problem has become more of an issue due to the natural environment for tigers being destroyed at an alarming rate, as a male tiger may have a territory of up to 60 to 100 square kilometers, while females up to 20 square kilometers, as this numbers change according with the habitat and subspecies. As a result they have to venture into new territories to be able to find adequate amounts of food.

Tigers tend to live on their own, depending on themselves for survival. They will only be seen with other tigers when they are looking for a mate or in the case of females when they are taking care of their offspring. The males have more personal territory than females when it comes to their natural habitat. It is natural for the females to have territories that overlap that of males. This is more acceptable than if another male tries to invade that same type of space.

In order for any type of habitat to be able to successfully offer what a tiger needs to survive, there are a few things that must be in place. The area must offer some type of covering that allows the tigers to blend into the surroundings quite well. They also need to have plenty of water to access. The last thing they need is plenty of prey to choose from.

The territories that tigers call home are marked by them. They spray urine and anal glands secretions to threes that allow them to give off very strong smells. This gives the indication to other tigers that they are invading the space of another. The females though may be drawn to the scent of the males in the area though which is how they often find each other for mating purposes.

Tiger travel movements though may get wider and wider though as their natural habitat is destroyed and the environment offers less prey for them to live on. It is also common for tigers to move along daily in their natural territory as well. This means they may not rest in the same area for more than a couple of days. Females are more likely to remain closer to their primary location than males.

The territories that tigers call home are marked by them. They have scent glands that allow them to give off very strong smells. This gives the indication to other tigers that they are invading the space of another. The females though may be drawn to the scent of the males in the area though which is how they often find each other for mating purposes.

Tiger Feeding

Tiger Eating Habits

The tiger is a carnivore which means that they are meat eaters. They tend to find both small and large prey to feed on in the wild. What they will consume generally depends on the area where they live as different types of animals will be readily available. They have no problem taking down animals must larger than themselves including buffalo and bears.

To conserve energy for the hunt and to help ensure the kill, they will get very close to their prey before pouncing in it. They are very good at moving quietly through the area around where their prey is found. Their stripes help to camouflage them so they aren’t seen until it is too late. They also find the young, the weak, or the old in a group of animals so that there is very little chance that these animals with outrun them.

Tigers have to be very careful with their prey though as a swift kick from some of them can severely injure or even kill them. For example tigers often leave baby elephants and rhinos alone due to the wrath and the physical strength of their parents. They certainly don’t want to end up getting harmed when they are trying to find food.

Those tigers that are adamant about having their kill all to themselves often take it up a tree or to another secluded location where it is extremely difficult for other tigers or other animals to help themselves to the meal as well. Sometimes they will even swim across a body of water with their prey in order to protect it. Once they get to a secluded area then they will freely consume it.

Some researches believe that tigers in the wild that have lost the speed or agility to hunt properly then can turn to villages in the area. There they may kill horses, dogs, cats, and even humans to get the sources of food that they need for survival.

Tigers do the majority of their hunting at night but they can also hunt during the day if they are desperately in need of food. They don’t have much stamina to go a long distance after their prey. This is why they must go in for the attack right away. With younger tigers they may starve due to a lack of food and energy.

Tigers will bite the neck region of the prey that they do capture to bring it down quickly. They also use their paws to hold the prey in place while it is struggling to get away. With smaller prey they are able to snap the neck from the spinal cord which will instantly kill the prey.

They have 30 teeth in their mouth that are extremely sharp. The incisors are used to grab the prey and to kill it. They are also used to remove chunks of meat from the bones. They use the canine teeth for killing and to bite their prey. The molars are used for chewing their food. They are all shaper than knives that are used to cut meat. Tigers also consume water from streams and lakes.

Tiger Predators

Tiger Threats

A very common question about tigers are what predators do they have to worry about. Since they are found at the top of the food chain, there isn’t much that gets in their way. Of course we all know that doesn’t mean they have lead a peaceful existence of they wouldn’t all be categorized as endangered species of animals.

Some of the larger types of animals out there though are a threat to tigers. Buffalo are one of them because they are so large and powerful. A kick from one of them can be the end of it for a tiger. Bears are also a threat due to their size and their powerful claws. Even elephants can attack tigers but generally only when they are trying to protect their offspring. Off  course all of this doesn’t prevent a tiger from going after the week or the young of these animals when it is hungry. They just have to be very calculated about how they will do it.

When a tiger comes into contact with such predators in the wild, they are often going to try to avoid conflicts. However, the males that are in their own territory will very likely stand their ground. With the natural habitat of all animals out there continually being destroyed by humans, these types of chance encounters are more likely to occur than they were in the past.

They can choose to stand and fight with their powerful claws and their sharp teeth. If they aren’t able to do that they usually can outrun these types of predators at least for a short distance. They can also climb trees and if there is water in the area they will simply swim to safety.

The one time when the tigers will stand their ground against such predators is when they have their own cubs to protect. This can turn out to be a very dangerous situation. The female needs to protect her cubs but by doing so she may end up getting killed herself. Then that means the offspring are going to have a very slim chance of surviving on their own but it will depend on their age.

Since humans are the biggest predators and threats to tigers the solution for their future lies in our own hands. We have the power to change what has been taking place for centuries. We have the technology at out fingertips to help these tigers to successfully mate with good genetics. We have the responsibility to continue to protect their natural environment rather than just expecting them to survive in captivity.

Humans can be very selfish creatures though which means that their own needs and wants often come before those of other animals out there. Hopefully as more people are educated about the tigers and what is happening to them they will make a conscious effort to change things. All of us can make a difference if we ban together and work hard at it.

Since the tigers don’t have too many other predators to really worry about in their natural environment we owe it to them to get things back in balance. It is possible for both us and them to live in harmony if we are respectful of their natural habitat. This scenario though is going to involve changing our mindset. We are going to have to stop clearing out forests, blowing up mountain areas to make roads or to harvest minerals, and we are going to have to stop the needless hunting and poaching of these animals so that they will have a chance to thrive once again.

Tiger Social Structure


Tiger Social Behavior

Understanding the social structure of the tiger can be complex. While it had been carefully studied there are still plenty of questions that remain. It is known that the males are more dominate and that they are larger. However, there are also some extremely fierce females out there trying to protect their young. They are able to get the males that could overpower them to leave them alone.

Since tigers are loners, mainly living an isolated existence it is hard to really view their social structure on a regular basis. It can change during various periods of their life. The females tend to be more tolerant of each other and they live in smaller territorial ranges than the males. It is very common for the females to overlap the areas of the males in many areas.

This makes it much more convenient for mating though because the females and the males will come into contact with each other. The males with fight each other for the right to mate though. The strongest gets to do so with many of the females in the area so this isn’t a fight that they will easily give up. Outside of mating though the tigers are generally more likely to go their own ways rather than being confrontational and fighting.

There is research to indicate tigers are able to recognize each other. They may be willing to share prey they have killed with other males that are related, females that have had their cubs, and even those that have been in the area before and they recognize the scent of. This doesn’t always happen though.

What is interesting is the eating habits of these animals. For example males that do share their meals with females and with cubs will allow them to feed first or at the same time. With most types

of cats including lions the males eat first until they get their fill then what is left can be shared by those remaining as they go down the social hierarchy.

Tigers can be social with each other though depending on what is going on. Some of the vocal sounds they offer indicate that they aren’t giving a warm welcome. They may hiss, meow, or growl to get others to get out of their territory. Other types they will purr and make low growling sounds to indicate interest and to draw others to them, especially for mating purposes.

The most social activities takes place when a mother has her cubs. She may have from 1 to 6 of them depending on the type of tiger. There is generally a dominant cub that emerges early on as well. It is typically a male but not always. This cub will set the pace for playing, sleeping, and engaging in various other types of activities.

There is still many unanswered questions about the social structure of the tiger though. Even through close observation in captivity they don’t always follow the same pattern of behavior. This is very interesting to researchers as it does indicate some level of problem solving skills that are separate from those that are just related to survival instinct.

Many researchers agree that the area of the social structure for tigers is one that does need to be explored further. However, it has been placed on a back burner for a very long time due to the endangered status of the different species of tigers. It is more appropriate to spend time and money to help them to survive then to gain answers to the questions that remain in reference to this particular topic.

Tiger Reproduction

Tiger courting process

Tigers don’t have a set season for reproduction to take place. Instead they are able to engage in the activities throughout the year. However, most of the time it will occur from late November through early April. Males are ready to mate when they are approximately 5 years of age. For females it is about 3 ½ years of age.

During the courting process you may hear tigers making a variety of howls and whines for each other. The males usually start this off but the females are very likely to respond. When they do come into contact with each other a dance of smelling each other, purring, and even rubbing against each other is very common. Some couples will go as far as to lick and to groom each other as well.

When a male and a female decide they would like to mate with each other, they will engage in the act several times over the course of a couple of days. That is how long the female will remain in heat at any given period of time. It is common for a male to mate with several different females as long as he is healthy and his basic needs are being met.

Once conception has occurred, it will take about 16 weeks for the cubs to be born. The males and females part ways after conception so she will be on her own to take care of them during the incubation period and afterwards. She will find a den where she can go to before they are born.

Generally there will be three or cubs born at a time. They weigh about 2 pounds each and they are completely dependent upon their mother as they are blind when they are born. The cubs will remain in the den until they are about 8 weeks old. The males often try to kill these young cubs if they come into contact with them. This is because the female will then be able to mate again with him.

Research has shown that there is a dominant cub in each litter. It is usually a male but that isn’t always the case. These cubs will engage in various types of play with each other and with their mothers. The dominant cub is the one that the mother will give the most food and care to if things become scarce to go around. The cubs will learn to hunt with their mother as well as they get older.

By the time that these tiger cubs are from 1 ½ to 2 years of age they are ready to go out on their own. The females tend to make a territory that is very close to that of their mother. The males though tend to spread out much further. The females tend to be very good mothers for their offspring. They are fiercely protective when it comes to keeping them safe from predators.

Sometimes though the females will have to choose to care for only one or two of the cubs. These will be the strongest of the bunch. They do this instinctively so that survival of the fittest is able to continue. Otherwise they risk all of their cubs dying if they try to continue inadequately caring for all of them.

The mortality rate for young tigers is extremely high. Less than half of them will survive the fist two years of life. They may be killed by males that are threatened by them, not get enough food from their mother, or become prey for other types of animals out there in the wild.