Tigers are the largest felines in the world. Many cultures consider the tiger to be a symbol of strength and courage. However, because hunting them is also a sign of bravery in some cultures, tigers are endangered; no more than 3,200 tigers are left in the wild.
Tigers have distinctive stripes, which help camouflage them when hunting prey. Some tigers have orange fur with black stripes; others are black with tan stripes, white with tan stripes or all white (albino), according to the San Diego Zoo. No two tigers have the same markings on their coats. They are as individual as fingerprints are for humans. [Photos: Elusive Siberian Tigers Captured in Brilliant Images]
On average, tigers are 4.8 to 9.5 feet (1.5 to 2.9 m) long and weigh 165 to 716 lbs. (75 to 325 kilograms). The largest tigers, the Siberian, also called Amur, are 10.75 feet (3.3 meters) long and weigh 660 lbs. (300 kg), according to National Geographic. The smallest tiger is the Sumatran tiger. They grow to 5 to 12 feet (1.5 to 3.7 m) and weigh 143-670 lbs. (65-305 kg), according to the Woodland Park Zoo. Tigers also have very long tails, which can add 2.3 to 3.6 feet (0.7 to 1.1 m) to their overall length.
Tigers live in Asia. Larger subspecies, such as the Siberian tiger, tend to live in northern, colder areas, such as eastern Russia and northeastern China. Smaller subspecies live in southern, warmer countries, such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
They live in arid forests, flooded mangrove forests, tropical forests and taiga, depending on the subspecies, according to the San Diego Zoo.
All tigers are carnivores. Most of a tiger's diet consists of large prey, such as pigs, deer, rhinos or elephant calves. To kill their prey, tigers will clamp down on the animal's neck with their jaws and suffocate the animal. Though tigers are fierce hunters, they are no strangers to failure. Ninety percent of the time they don't catch their prey, according to the Woodland Park Zoo.
Tigers are solitary creatures; they like to spend most of their time alone, roaming their massive territories looking for food. According to the San Diego Zoo, the Siberian tiger has the largest range. Its territory can be more than 4,000 square miles (10,000 square kilometers). Tigers mark their territory by scratching marks into trees with their claws.
Tiger babies, or cubs, are born helpless. At birth, a cub weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kg), and a female may have as many as seven cubs at a time, according to the San Diego Zoo. Usually, only two survive, though, because the mother must leave the cubs while she hunts, and she cannot kill enough prey to feed so many cubs.
Tiger cubs mature quickly. At 8 weeks old, they are ready to learn how to hunt and go out on hunting expeditions with their mother. At 2 years old, the cubs will set out on their own, and their mother will have another set of cubs. Tigers typically live 14 to 18 years.
Nine subspecies of tiger are recognized; however, three of them are extinct, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
The taxonomy of tigers, according to ITIS, is:
Genus & species: Panthera tigris
- Panthera tigris altaica (Siberian tiger, Amur tiger)
- Panthera tigris amoyensis (South China tiger)
- Panthera tigris balica (Bali tiger, Balinese tiger)
- Panthera tigris corbetti (Corbett's tiger, Indochinese tiger, Indo-Chinese tiger)
- Panthera tigris jacksoni (Malayan tiger)
- Panthera tigris sondaica (Javan tiger)
- Panthera tigris sumatrae (Sumatran tiger)
- Panthera tigris tigris (Bengal tiger)
- Panthera tigris virgata (Caspian tiger)
The Javan tiger was last recorded in the 1970s, the Caspian tiger was lost in the 1950s, and the Bali tiger became extinct in the 1930s, according to Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization. [Gallery: Iconic Cats: All 9 Subspecies of Tigers]
There are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. According to the WWF, there are about 5,000 captive tigers in the United States alone, but there are fewer than 3,200 tigers in the wild.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Species categorizes all remaining tiger species as endangered. Most live on wildlife refuges to protect them from poachers.
Tigers are fantastic swimmers. They can forge rivers and lakes that are 3.7 to 5 miles (6 to 8 km) wide, according to Woodland Park Zoo.
Lions and tigers are closely related. If you shaved them you wouldn't be able to tell them apart because their body structure is so similar, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Their teeth can be very long, as well. Some tigers have teeth as long as 3 inches (7 cm).