They have striking orange and black stripes, and they’re the largest wild cats in the world. They’re tigers! These cool cats are really one of a kind, it’s hard not to admire their charisma and sheer presence.
Tigers are a member of the genus Panthera, named “Panthera tigris”. There are up to eight species of tigers, the most well known being the Siberian Tiger and the Bengal Tiger. Of these eight species, three of them have gone extinct. Tigers are at the top of the food chain and usually hunt alone, taking up large areas of territory where they find prey like buffalo, deer and goats.
What truly makes the tiger king of the jungle? Let’s find out!
- Tigers are HUGE.
Tigers are ranked third in size among large land carnivores, behind polar bears and brown bears. In the wild, adult male tigers can weigh up to 363kg and measure up to three metres in length, including their tails. That’s like half a small car or six average sized humans. Imagine if they sat on you with their full weight. You’d be dead, yo.
Female tigers are slightly smaller at 170kg, but they’re still pretty hefty compared to humans. Newborn tiger cubs weigh about 1kg, the change from small baby to full grown adult is mighty impressive!
- What’s bigger than a tiger? A liger!
Tigers can mate with other big cats in captivity. If a male lion breeds with a female tiger, their offspring are called ligers. If you thought tigers were massive, ligers can grow up to 3.6 metres long and the record weight of a liger is 550kg. Hercules the liger is the largest living cat at nearly 420kg, and he is an absolute unit.
- Tigers are handsome, but those stripes have a purpose.
Tiger stripes really stand out to the human eye, but their prey can’t see very well and have a hard time picking out the tiger’s bright stripes in the long grass. This is because tigers normally go after prey called ungulates, which are large mammals with hooves that are usually herbivorous. Ungulate eyes cannot see the range of colours that humans and primates do, so to a buffalo or deer, tiger stripes don’t look very different from the rest of the vegetation in their surroundings.
- Tigers can be really loud when they want to be.
Tigers are normally silent when hunting and socializing, but when they roar they can be heard up to three kilometres away. Unlike domestic cats, tigers can’t purr, but they have a range of other sounds they can make to communicate, like growling, moaning, mewing, hissing and chuffing. In the big cat family, only cheetahs and jaguars can purr. Tigers also get their message across by scent marking and using body language.
- Tigers may be mighty in size, but they’re also mighty fast!
A tiger running at full speed can reach 65km per hour, ranking in the top 20 fastest land mammals. They can also leap forward by about 30 feet in a single jump due to their longer hind legs giving them extra jumping power. That’s about the length of two giraffes or six feet less than the length of a school bus, whoa!
- Tigers are not like housecats – they absolutely love water.
Tigers are strong swimmers that can cross rivers as much as seven kilometres across, covering up to 30 kilometres a day when they’re patrolling their territory. In fact, they love water so much they can even capture and kill prey in the water. Tiger mothers teach their cubs to swim from young, encouraging them to spend time in the water up to hours at a time and teaching them to hunt underwater.
- Tigers are big cats with big territories.
These majestic cats need a lot of space, ranging from 20km to 400km. That’s wild! While they’re patrolling, they mark their territory by rubbing their cheeks and bodies on surfaces. This is because big and small cats have glands on their faces, front paws and bodies that secrete pheromones used to communicate with other cats. Tigers also spray a mixture of urine and scent on surfaces and leave scratch marks with their claws on trees to interact with other tigers in their range.
- Tigers have been around for a really long time – 2 million years, actually!
Fossils from tiger ancestors like Panthera palaeosinensis have been found in some parts of Asia, such as China and Java. Tigers also populated Borneo once upon a time. More tiger ancestor remains were found in Sumatra, Japan, India and the Philippines. These awe-inspiring creatures were once found all over the world, but are now centred mostly in Siberian temperate forests and the tropical and subtropical jungles of India and Sumatra.
- There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.
Many tigers live as pets or zoo attractions in areas like the US and Asia. Land development and trophy hunting have whittled down the numbers of tigers in the wild from 100,000 to only about 3,500. Tigers also face threats from poachers who hunt them for their body parts to be sold as part of the traditional remedies market in Asia.
Bonus tiger facts:
Tigers can imitate the call of other animals, otherwise known as hunting by mimicry. By making sounds similar to their prey, they can draw animals into their trap and ambush them.
Tiger stripes are as distinctive as human fingerprints – researchers tracking wild tigers identify them by their body markings.
Tiger stripes aren’t just on their fur, their skin is striped too! If their fur is shaved off, their stripe pattern is still shown on their skin. Don’t try this at home with your cat.
White tigers are not albino, and they are not a separate subspecies. They are leucistic, created by combining recessive genes from each parent that has an effect on pigmentation. This genetic trait means that white tigers usually have blue eyes.
A group of tigers is called an ‘ambush’ or a ‘streak’.