Though slim and elegant, tigers are immensely powerful. Their front legs and paws are tremendously strong: they can kill young elephants and rhino and drag prey weighing 200 kg. (5001 bs.) Or more. Tigers walk on the fore pads of their feet, which gives their stride suppleness and elasticity. They have flexible forelegs that can twist inwards, allowing them to grasp prey. Their claws remain retracted until they are needed in the final moments of attack.
Tigers are famed for their glowing amber eyes. Unlike most other cats, they have round pupils. Tigers have acute eyesight and the cells in their eyes are sensitive to color. They can perceive depth because their eyes face forwards, thus allowing direction and distance to be judged with extreme accuracy. Tigers, like all cats, have a special adaptation that gives them excellent night vision: a membrane at the back of the eye reflects light through the light sensitive cells of the retina. This effectively doubles the intensity of dim light. The same principal is used in the "cats' eyes" on our roads.
Scent forms the basis for territorial behavior. Tigers keep track of each other's movements by scent marking, which helps them to avoid conflict. To make the best use of information contained in a scent mark, the tiger has to hang out its tongue and draw back the lips, causing the eyes to close. This is called the flehmen response and it allows the tiger to pass the scent through two small holes in the upper palate behind the incisors in effect the tiger can "test" he scent. To human eyes, the expression looks like a grimace of disgust.
Tigers inhabit many types of forests, from the mangrove swamps of Bangladesh to the coniferous forests of the Russian Far East. Dense vegetation, plenty of pre and minimum human interference are all requirements of good tiger habitat, as are pools for drinking and bathing. Tigers of the warmer climes love water and may even sleep with part of their body submerged.
They are adept swimmers. Young tigers are agile enough to climb into trees but adults are generally too heavy. However, an angry tiger in Siberia was reported to have limbed into a tree in an attempt to swat the helicopter that was following it
Tigers can kill prey that exceeds their own weight. A tiger can eat over 30 kgs (66lvbs ) of meat in a single night, though a large kill ma be needed only once or twice a week. In the meantime, snacks such a peacocks, crabs turtles, fish, lizards, small birds or even locusts will suffice. Tigers are not exclusively carnivorous and will sometimes eat jungle fruits. Their stomachs often contain earth, and his is probably ingested to aid digestion.
In India, hog deer, chital (spotted deer), barking deer, sambar, nilgai and wild boar are the favorite prey, though tigers will also kill jungle ox and even young elephants and rhino of up to 450 kgs (1000 lbs ) in weight. Tigers will seek to porcupines, even though these prickly creatures have a nasty habit of backing into a pursuer in order to drive in their spines. Injuries form porcupines may fester and can even cause the death of a tiger.
Tigers tend to hunt between dusk and dawn. They are less active during the day and may lie satiated in the shade or in a pool near the remains of a kill. Tigers often cover an unfinished meal with soil and leaves and return to it later. Even so, scavengers are quick to take advantage, though they risk annoying the owner of the kill. A tiger was photographed pouncing on a vulture in sheer exasperation and an irritable tiger will even chase away crows.
Sight and sound, rather than scent, are used to locate prey. Tigers are too large and too heavy to run for long distances and therefore must patiently stalk their prey until they are close enough to make a final lunge for the neck. Effective camouflage is essential and in patches of sunshine and shade a motionless tiger is practically invisible. Despite being one of the most feared of the world's predators, tigers are often unsuccessful in catching their prey. Prey species have acute hearing and many run faster than a tiger.
Some have alarm calls that warn all the animals in the vicinity to be wary. If the tiger fails in a hunting attempt it must move to another area or wait until the forest becomes calm again.
Tiger cubs are born blind and helpless, weighing only 1.5 kg (3/3lbs). The cubs' eyes open after one or two weeks. Initially blue of blue green, the eyes will darken later to glowing amber.
On average, there are three cubs in a litter, though an exceptional seven was once recorded.
Tigresses are devoted mothers and when the cubs are young, she will move them to places of safety, carrying them gently one by one in her huge, powerful jaws. Cubs are very vulnerable to attack by passing predators and many perish before their first year is out. Jackals, hyenas, leopards and pythons, as well as other tigers, are all a potential threat. The tigress must choose a carefully hidden den and leave the cubs alone for as short a time as possible while she hunts. Grass fires, which are often started deliberately to improve grazing, kill many tiger cubs.
Tiger cubs are playful and their games together games together begin to teach them the skills necessary for survival. They stalk and pounce on leaves, insects, or even their mother's tail.
At first, the cubs must hide in the undergrowth while the tigress hunts, but later they are allowed to watch and eventually join in. the young cash help the tigress by driving the chosen victim towards her. Learning to hunt is a difficult and dangerous process and many cubs are gored of trampled to death. Inexperienced cubs tend to grab the legs of the prey, leaving them vulnerable to retaliation. Sometimes the tigress will intervene. She can bring down the prey and then leave it for the cubs to kill. It takes many attempts before he cubs learn to kill efficiently by biting the throat or the nape of the neck.
A mother tiger may allow her cubs to feed first . If she joins her young at a meal, she will withdraw if a cub protests and will go without meat to ensure that they have enough.
The cubs have voracious appetites and by the time they are 14 months old , it is a strain for the tigress to capture enough prey. The runt is the last in queue at meals and if food is in scarce supply, it will starve to death.
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