10 Fascinating Facts About Tigers

Malayan tiger is walking toward viewer looking straight
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Tigers, with their stripes, are instantly recognizable but endangered big cats. The IUCN Red List assessment recognizes six subspecies of tigers, with three of those species critically endangered. Found primarily in tropical Asia, they historically had a greater distribution across Central and Western Asia and Turkey. The Amur tiger subspecies still is found in a small portion of the Russian Far East.

Humans have long been fascinated with these cats, and it shows in areas from folklore to cereal boxes. Despite their outsized presence, there's more to learn about these felines.

1. Tigers Date Back to the Pleistocene Era

The oldest known tiger ancestor, the Longdan tiger (Panthera zdanskyi), dates back 2.15 million to 2.55 million years. The remains of this tiger were found in China's Gansu Province. According to researchers, this species was very similar to today's tiger in the skull and the teeth structure, but smaller in size. Scientists suspect that tigers got bigger as their prey grew larger.

2. They Are Able to Survive in a Variety of Conditions

Tigers live in diverse environmental conditions, from rainforests to mountains. They live in places that are always warm and moist and locales where temperatures reach minus 40. As long as they have enough food, cover, and water, tigers can adapt to local conditions. Having enough prey is the biggest problem: tigers eat between 50 and 60 large prey animals per year. They will eat smaller game like birds, but they need to consume prey animals roughly the same size as themselves to successfully reproduce.

3. Their Skin Is Also Striped

A close-up of tiger fur

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A tiger's skin still displays its stripes if you shave away the fur. Snow leopards, with their spots, are the same way. The reason is likely because the cats' colored hair follicles embedded in the skin are visible, similar to beard stubble. Other striped or spotted animals don't exhibit this kind of coloring on their skin. Zebra skin, for instance, is black underneath their black-and-white striped coats.

4. Their Coats Are as Unique as Fingerprints

Tiger hidden in a bush. Only a small portion of the face is visible behind the stems of tropical scrub
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Each tiger's stripes are unique to the animal. As a result, identifying and tracking tigers for conservation purposes can be performed through a visual inspection. Despite their uniqueness, the stripes all serve the same goal: break up the tiger's silhouette and make it harder for would-be prey to spot them before they pounce.

5. They Are Solitary Hunters

Unlike lions, tigers keep to themselves and hunt alone during the night. Tiger eyesight while hunting is about six times better than human night vision. With hind legs longer than their front legs, they're able to leap almost 33 feet and have a top running speed of 40 mph. Despite all these adaptations for hunting, only one in 10 of a tiger's hunts is successful.

6. They Don't Shy Away From Water

Two tigers, nose to nose, chest deep in a river

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Most felines are notorious for their aversion to water, but tigers are the exception. Tigers will swim and play in the water and even sit in it to cool off during the day's heat. With webbed toes to enable them to swim effectively, they regularly swim across rivers 5 miles wide.

7. Subspecies Changes Are Proposed

Classification of modern tigers generally sorts them into six living and three extinct subspecies. The living subspecies under this classification include the Sumatran, Siberian, Bengal, Indochinese, South China, and Malayan tigers. Scientifically speaking, under modern taxonomy rules, there are only two subspecies: Panthera tigris tigris and Panthera tigris sondaica. The first includes all tigers found in mainland areas, while the second consists of only tigers found on the Sunda Islands.

8. Their Roar Can Paralyze Prey

For humans and other animals, the vocal folds are triangular at the point where they enter the airway. Tigers (and lions) have square vocal folds thanks to fat within the structure's ligaments. The square shape allows these big cats to roar louder while using less lung pressure. These low-frequency roars are 25 times the volume of a lawnmower. The most important part of their vocalizations is the extraordinarily low frequencies undetectable by the human ear. Within those infrasound frequencies, there exists the power to paralyze prey animals, including humans. They rarely roar while hunting, reserving it for when the prey decides to fight back.

9. White Tigers Are Rare in the Wild

A white tiger stands in a snowy background

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White tigers aren't albinos, and they didn't turn white to better survive in snow. Their white fur is the result of a genetic mutation that shuts off the genes that generate yellow and red pigments. The mutation is recessive, so both parents must have the gene to be expressed in an offspring. The last wild white tiger was shot in 1958, though a very pale tiger was spotted in 2017. Inbreeding of captive white tigers has led to numerous health problems, such as hip issues, clubbed feet, and crossed eyes.

10. Tigers Are Endangered

Habitat loss and poaching are the main threats facing tigers. They compete with humans for the large ungulates like deer and wild pigs that they require for food. Tropical hardwood logging, oil palm plantations, other agriculture, and housing increasingly encroach on tigers' natural range. Sadly, 43 percent of tigers' breeding areas and 57 percent of tiger conservation landscapes have roads impacting tigers by reducing prey animals. With fewer prey, tigers target domestic farm animals—which results in retaliation killings. Known as walking gold, tigers are heavily poached for illegally traded skins, bones, meat, and other body parts.

Save The Tigers

  • Don't buy tiger products even if they claim to be from farmed tigers.
  • Support legislation to protect tigers, such as the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
  • Avoid products containing palm oil.
  • Don't buy products made from tropical hardwoods like red sandalwood, satinwood, and teak.