Panthera tigristiger

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Geographic Range

The range of tigers once extended across Asia from eastern Turkey and the Caspian Sea south of the Tibetan plateau eastward to Manchuria and the Sea of Okhotsk. Tigers were also found in northern Iran, Afghanistan, the Indus valley of Pakistan, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the islands of Java and Bali. Tigers are now extinct or nearly extinct in most of these areas. Populations remain relatively stable in northeastern China, Korea, Russia, and parts of India and the Himalayan region. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005)

There are eight recognized subspecies of Panthera tigris. Siberian tigers, P. t. altaica, are currently found only in a small part of Russia, including the Amurussuri region of Primorye and Khabarovsk. Bengal tigers, P. t. tigris, are found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and China. Indochinese tigers, P. t. corbetti, are found in Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. South China tigers, P. t. amoyensis, are found in three isolated areas in southcentral China. Sumatran tigers, P. t. sumatrae, are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Bali tigers (P. t. balica), Javan tigers (P. t. sondaica), and Caspian tigers (P. t. virgata) are thought to be extinct. Those subspecies occurred on the islands of Bali (P. t. balica), Java (P. t. sondaica), and in Turkey, the Transcaucasus region, Iran, and central Asia (P. t. virgata). (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005)

Habitat

Tigers live in a wide variety of habitats, suggested by their distribution across a wide range of ecological conditions. They are known to occur in tropical lowland evergreen forest, monsoonal forest, dry thorn forest, scrub oak and birch woodlands, tall grass jungles, and mangrove swamps. Tigers are able to cope with a broad range of climatic variation, from warm moist areas, to areas of extreme snowfall where temperatures may be as low as –40 degrees Celsius. Tigers have been found at elevations of 3,960 meters. In general, tigers require only some vegetative cover, a source of water, and sufficient prey. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Ullasa, 2001)

Physical Description

Tigers have a reddish-orange coat with vertical black stripes along the flanks and shoulders that vary in size, length, and spacing. Some subspecies have paler fur and some are almost fully white with either black or dark brown stripes along the flanks and shoulders. The underside of the limbs and belly, chest, throat, and muzzle are white or light. White is found above the eyes and extends to the cheeks. A white spot is present on the back of each ear. The dark lines about the eyes tend to be symmetrical, but the marks on each side of the face are often asymmetrical. The tail is reddish-orange and ringed with several dark bands. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

Body size and morphology varies considerably among subspecies of tigers. Siberian tigers, also know as Amur tigers (P. t. altaica), are the largest. Male Siberian tigers can grow to 3.7 meters and weigh over 423 kg; females are up to 2.4 meters in length and 168 kg. Male Indochinese tigers (P. t. corbetti), though smaller than Siberian tigers in body size at 2.85 meters in length and 195 kg, have the longest skull of all tiger subspecies, measuring 319 to 365 mm. Sumatran tigers (P. t. sumatrae) are the smallest living subspecies. Male Sumatran tigers measure 2.34 meters and weigh 136 kg; females measure 1.98 meters and weigh 91 kg. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

Tigers are powerful animals, one is known to have dragged a gaur bull weighing 700 kg. Tigers have short, thick necks, broad shoulders, and massive forelimbs, ideal for grappling with prey while holding on with long retractible claws and broad forepaws. A tiger’s tongue is covered with hard papillae, to scrape flesh off the bones of prey. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

All tigers have a dental formula of 3/3, 1/1, 3/2, 1/1. Bengal tigers (P. t. tigris) have the longest canines of any living large cat; from 7.5 to 10 cm in length. A tiger's skull is robust, short, and broad with wide zygomatic arches. The nasal bones are high, projecting little further than the maxillary, where the canines fit. Tigers have a well-developed sagittal crest and coronoid processes, providing muscle attachment for their strong bite. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    91 to 423 kg
    200.44 to 931.72 lb
  • Range length
    1.98 to 3.7 m
    6.50 to 12.14 ft
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    133.859 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Tigers are solitary and do not associate with mates except for mating. Local males may compete for access to females in estrus. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Female tigers come into estrus every 3 to 9 weeks and are receptive for 3 to 6 days. They have a gestation period of about 103 days (from 96 to 111 days), after which they give birth to from 1 to 7 altricial cubs. Average litter sizes are 2 to 3 young. In Siberian tigers the average litter size is 2.65 (n=123), similar averages have been found in other tiger subspecies. Newborn cubs are blind and helpless, weighing from 780 to 1600 g. The eyes do not open until 6 to 14 days after birth and the ears from 9 to 11 days after birth. The mother spends most of her time nursing the young during this vulnerable stage. Weaning occurs at 90 to 100 days old. Cubs start following their mother at about 2 months old and begin to take some solid food at that time. From 5 to 6 months old the cubs begin to take part in hunting expeditions. Cubs stay with their mother until they are 18 months to 3 years old. Young tigers do not reach sexual maturity until around 3 to 4 years of age for females and 4 to 5 years of age for males. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Ullasa, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Female tigers give birth every 3 to 4 years, depending on the length of dependence of previous cubs.
  • Breeding season
    Tigers can breed at any time of the year, but breeding is most common from November to April.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
    2.65
  • Average number of offspring
    2.5
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    96 to 111 days
  • Average gestation period
    103 days
  • Average weaning age
    90 to 100 days
  • Average time to independence
    18 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1268 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 to 5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1415 days
    AnAge

Like other mammals, females care for and nurse their dependent young. Weaning occurs at 3 to 6 months, but cubs are dependent on their mother until they become proficient hunters themselves, when they reach 18 months to 3 years old. Young tigers must learn to stalk, attack, and kill prey from their mother. A mother caring for cubs must increase her killing rate by 50% in order to get enough nutrition to satisfy herself and her offspring. Male tigers do not provide parental care. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

Tigers usually live 8 to 10 years in the wild, although they can reach ages into their 20's. In captivity tigers have been known to live up to 26 years old, although a typical captive lifespan is 16 to 18 years. It is estimated that most adult tigers die as a result of human persecution and hunting, although their large prey can occasionally wound them fatally. Young tigers face numerous dangers when they disperse from their mother's home range, including being attacked and eaten by male tigers. Some researchers estimate a 50% survival rate for young tigers. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    26 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 to 10 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 to 10 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16 to 18 years

Behavior

Tigers are solitary, the only long-term relationship is between a mother and her offspring. Tigers are most active at night, when their wild ungulate prey are most active, although they can be active at any time of the day. Tigers prefer to hunt in dense vegetation and along routes where they can move quietly. In snow, tigers select routes on frozen river beds, in paths made by ungulates, or anywhere else that has a reduced snow depth. Tigers have tremendous leaping ability, being able to leap from 8 to 10 meters. Leaps of half that distance are more typical. Tigers are excellent swimmers and water doesn't usually act as a barrier to their movement. Tigers can easily cross rivers as wide as 6-8 km and have been known to cross a width of 29 km in the water. Tigers are also excellent climbers, using their retractible claws and powerful legs. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Range territory size
    64 to 9252 km^2

Home Range

Home range sizes vary depending on the density of prey. Female Indian tigers (P. t. tigris) have home range sizes from 200 to 1000 square kilometers (range 64 to 9252 km2); a male's home range averages between 2 to 15 times larger. Within their home range tigers maintain several dens, often among dense vegetation or in a cave, cavity under a fallen tree, or in a hollow tree. Tigers often defend exclusive home ranges, but they have also been known to peacefully share home ranges or wander permanently, without any home range. Tigers may cover as much as 16 to 32 kilometers in a single night. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Communication and Perception

Communication among tigers is maintained by scent markings, visual signals, and vocalization. Scent markings are deposited in the form of an odorous musky liquid that is mixed with urine and sprayed on objects like grass, trees, or rocks. A facial expression called “flehmen” is often associated with scent detection. During flehmen, the tongue hangs over the incisors, the nose is wrinkled, and the upper canines are bared. Flehmen is commonly seen in males that have just sniffed urine, scent marks, an estrous tigress, or a cub of their own species. (Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

Visual signals made by tigers include spots that have been sprayed, scrapes made by raking the ground, and claw marks left on trees or other objects. Schaller (1967) described a “defense threat” facial expression observed when a tiger is attacking. This involved pulling the corners of the open mouth back, exposing the canines, fattening the ears, and enlarging the pupils of the eyes. The spots on the back of their ears and their pattern of stripes may also be used in intraspecific communication. (Mazak, 1981; Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

Tigers can also communicate vocally with roars, growls, snarls, grunts, moans, mews, and hisses. Each sound has its own purpose, and appears to reflect the tiger's intent or mood. For example, a tiger’s roar is usually a signal of dominance; it tells other individuals how big it is and its location. A moan communicates submission. The ability of tigers to roar comes from having a flexible hyoid apparatus and vocal fold with a thick fibro- elastic pad that allows sound to travel long distances. (Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Thapar, 2005; Ullasa, 2001)

Food Habits

Tigers prefer to hunt at night, when their ungulate prey are most active. In a study done in India by Schaller (1967), tigers were most active before 0800 and after 1600 hours. Tigers are thought to locate their prey using hearing and sight more than olfaction (Schaller, 1967). They use a stealthy approach, taking advantage of every rock, tree and bush as cover and rarely chase prey far. Tigers are silent, taking cautious steps and keeping low to the ground so they are not sighted or heard by the prey. They typically kill by ambushing prey, throwing the prey off balance with their mass as they leap onto it. Tigers are successful predators but only 1 out of 10 to 20 attacks result in a successful hunt. (Mazak, 1981; Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Tigers use one of two tactics when they get close enough to kill. Small animals, weighing less than half the body weight of the tiger, are killed by a bite to the back of the neck. The canines are inserted between the neck vertebrae forcing them apart and breaking the spinal cord. For larger animals, a bite to the throat is used to crush the animal’s trachea and suffocate it. The throat bite is the safer killing tactic because it minimizes any physical assault the tiger may receive while trying to kill its prey. After the prey is taken to cover, tigers feed first on the buttocks using the carnassials to rip open the carcass. As the tiger progresses it opens the body cavity and removes the stomach. Not all of the prey is eaten; some parts are rejected. Prey are usually dragged to cover and may be left there and revisited over several days. (Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

The majority of the tiger diet consists of various large ungulate species, including sambar (Rusa unicolor), chital (Axis axis), hog deer (Axis porcinus), barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), elk (Cervus elaphus), sika deer (Cervus nippon), Eurasian elk (Alces alces), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), muskdeer (Moschus moschiferus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), black buck (Antilope cervicapra), gaur (Bos frontalis), banteng (Bos javanicus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), and wild pigs (Sus). Domestic ungulates are also taken, including cattle (Bos taurus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), horses (Equus caballus), and goats (Capra hircus). In rare cases tigers attack Malayan tapirs (Tapirus indicus), Indian elephants (Elephas maximus), and young Indian rhinoceroses (Rhinoceros unicornis). Tigers regularly attack and eat brown bears (Ursus arctos), Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), and sloth bears (Melursus ursinus). Smaller animals are sometimes taken when larger prey is unavailable, this includes large birds such as pheasants (Phasianinae), leopards (Panthera pardus), fish, crocodiles (Crocodylus), turtles, porcupines (Hystrix), rats, and frogs. A very few tigers begin to hunt humans (Homo sapiens). Tigers will eat between 18 and 40 kg of meat when they successfully take large prey, they do not typically eat every day. (Mazak, 1981; Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • fish

Predation

Tigers have no natural predators, except for humans. Adult tigers are potential predators of younger cubs. (Schaller, 1967; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Tigers help regulate populations of their large herbivore prey, which put pressure on plant communities. Because of their role as top predators, they may be considered keystone species. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Tiger parasites include the nematode, trematode, and cestode worms: Paragonimus westermani, Toxocara species, Uiteinarta species, Physaloptera praeputhostoma, Dirofilaria species, Gnathostoma spinigerum, Diphyllobothrium erinacei, Taenia bubesei, and Taenia pisiformis. Ticks known from tigers are Rhipicephalus annulatus, Dermacentor silvarum, Hyalomma truncatum, Hyalomma kumari, Hyalomma marginata, and Rhipicelphalus turanicus.

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Live tigers are of economic importance in zoos where they are displayed to the public and in wildlife areas where they may bring in tourism. Tigers are illegally killed for their fur to make rugs and wall hangings. In addition, for more than 3000 years traditional Chinese medicine has used tiger parts to treat sickness and injury. The humerus (upper leg bone), for example, has been prescribed to treat rheumatism even though there is no evidence that it has any affect on the disease. Some believe that tiger bones will help them become as strong and ferocious as the tiger. (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Normally tigers avoid human contact, very rarely tigers may become “man eaters”. A man-eating tigress was rumored to have killed over 430 people, including 234 over the course of four years. It is thought that man-eating tigers are those that cannot effectively prey on large ungulated because they have become crippled, are old, or no longer have suitable native habitat and prey available. Because human populations are rapidly increasing, competition over natural resources is increasing pressure on tigers and their habitat and increasing the likelihood of negative human-tiger interactions. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Siberian (P. t. altaica), South China (P. t. amoyensis), and Sumatran tigers (P. t. sumatrae) are all critically endangered. Bengal (P. tigris tigris) and Indochinese tigers (P. tigris corbetti) are endangered. Bali (P. t. balica), Javan (P. t. sondaica), and Caspian tigers (P. tigris virgata) are extinct. The specific threats to tigers vary regionally, but human persecution, hunting, and human-induced habitat destruction are universal factors in threatening tiger populations. (Mazak, 1981)

Other Comments

Panthera tigris has 38 chromosomes. The karyotype has 16 pairs of metacentric and submetacentric autosomes and two pairs of acrocentric autosomes. The X chromosome is a medium-sized metacentric and the Y chromosomes is a small metacentric.

Maltese tigers (sometimes referred to as P. t. melitensis, although they are not a true subspecies) are a variety of tiger that results from inbreeding. Maltese tigers have white fur with grey hues, making them look blue from a distance. So called 'white tigers' result when a cub is born with two recessive forms of a gene, also the result of inbreeding. White tigers suffer from many problems including eye weakness, sway backs, and twisted necks. (Mazak, 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002; Ullasa, 2001)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Kevin Dacres (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor, instructor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

choruses

to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

threatened

The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

2007. "Evolution, Ecology and Status of Global Tigers" (On-line pdf). World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong. Accessed April 03, 2007 at http://www.wwf.org.hk/eng/pdf/references/factsheets/factsheetii.PDF.

Mazak, V. 1981. Mammalian Species. Panthera tigris, 152: 1-8.

Schaller, G. 1967. The deer and the tiger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thapar, V. 2005. Wild Tigers of Ranthambhore. New Delhi, NY: Oxford University Press.

Ullasa, K. 2001. The Way of the Tiger. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press.