10 Fascinating Facts About Tigers

Tigers are the most iconic of the big cat species. They're also the biggest of all the felines. Arangan Ananth/Shutterstock

There's a reason tigers are a common symbol of power in various Asian cultures: They're charismatic creatures that lead solitary lives but seem ferocious all the same.

Given our fascination with them, we know a fair bit about tigers, but there's always more to learn about these felines.

1. Tigers Are Old, at Least on a Human Scale

The oldest known tiger ancestor, the Longdan tiger (Panthera zdanskyi) dates back some 2.15 million to 2.55 million years. According to researchers, the remains of the tiger, found in China's Gansu Province, "is morphologically surprisingly similar to extant tigers," albeit it with some differences in head and teeth size. It's likely, then, that the Longdan tiger is located relatively far away on the family tree from tiger species still in existence today.

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

Tigers are "tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions," from rainforests to mountains. "They can live in temperatures ranging from minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit) in Russia to 48 C in India [and] they can adapt to annual rainfall as low as 600 millimeters to as high as 8,000 millimeters," Ullas Karanth, director for Asia at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Business Insider.

3. Tiger Fur Hides Their Skin, Which Is Also Striped

A close-up of tiger fur
What secrets lurk under a tiger's fur?. subin pumsom/Shutterstock

Yes, a tiger's skin will still display their 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 that of 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 striped black-and-white coats.

4. Tiger Coats Are Unique

In addition to being visible on their skin, 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 purpose: To break up the tiger's silhouette and make it harder for would-be prey to spot them before they pounce.

5. Tigers Are Careful, Solitary Hunters

Unlike lions, which work together and live in prides, tigers keep to themselves and hunt alone during the night. They are equipped for it, however. Their eyesight is at night is about six times better than ours, and with hind legs longer than their front legs, they're able to leap almost 33 feet (10 meters). Top that with a top running speed of 40 mph (65 kph), you would think that tigers would be top-notch hunters, but only one in 10 of a tiger's hunts is successful.

6. Tigers Don't Shy Away From Water

Most felines are notorious for their aversion to water. They'll drink it, of course, but get most cats of any size near it and they became rather unhappy. Not so with tigers. Tigers will swim and play in water, and will even sit in it to cool off during the heat of the day.

7. There Are Nine Subspecies of Tigers, but There Are a Couple of Catches

The first catch? Three of them are extinct. The tigers currently roaming the Earth are the Sumatran tiger, the Siberian tiger, the Bengal tiger, Indochinese tiger, South China tiger and Malayan tiger. The Caspian, Javan and Bali tigers are considered extinct in the wild. And there's another catch. Scientifically speaking, there are only two subspecies: The Panthera tigris tigris, which is made up of the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese, South Chinese, Siberian and Caspian tiger populations and Panthera tigris sondaica, which the Javan, Bali and Sumatran tiger belong to. The classification of the tigers as different subspecies is based on where the tigers are found in the wild.

8. A Tiger's Roar Can Reach up to 114 Decibels, Which Is About 25 Times Louder Than a Lawnmower

For humans and other animals, the vocal folds are triangular in shape where they enter the airway. Tigers (and lions) have square vocal folds thanks to fat within the vocal fold ligaments. The square shape allows these big cats to roar louder with less lung pressure.

9. White Tigers Are Rare in the Wild

A white tiger stands in a snowy background
White tigers are the result of a rate genetic mutation. andamanec/Shutterstock

White tigers aren't albinos, and they didn't turn white so they could 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 for it to be expressed in an offspring. White tigers can trace their lineage to a white tiger captured in the wild in 1951. Since a white tiger is only like to occur once in every 10,000 tigers, captive white tigers are regularly interbred to produce more white tigers, even though this can lead to health problems, including malformed feet and faces, heart issues and impaired vision.

10. Tiger Population Counts Are Controversial

In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Tiger Forum announced that the wild tiger population was 3,890 individuals, billing it as a rebound in the tiger population, which the agencies estimated to be around 3,200 in 2010. The count was criticized by other organizations for methodological weaknesses and incomplete data. Some experts believe that, given the elusive nature of the felines, we may never know their true population in the wild. What we do know for sure is that at the turn of the 20th century, some 100,000 tigers called large swathes of Asia home, and now the tigers that do remain are scattered over a range 7% its former size.