Hi guys! My last post was at the request of my Mum, this one is at the request of my Dad. My Dad has asked me to do a post all about tigers, an animal I have very much been looking forward to discussing. In this post, I will discuss these incredible animals, a famous hybrid made using these animals and their ancient ancestors.
Tigers are the largest cats on Earth and are in the genus Panthera. It is an apex predator, primarily preying on deer and bovids (buffalo, antelope, sheep, goats, etc). It is a territorial animal and generally a solitary but social predator. There are several sub species, the most well known being the Bengal tiger (pictured above), but others include the Sumatran tiger, the Siberian tiger and the Malayan tiger. Due to its large size it requires a large amount of food, this means that tigers have very large territories to accommodate this. As a result of this, and the the fact they inhabit some of the most densely populated areas on the globe, tigers have often gotten into conflict with humans.
Tigers are well adapted for life as a predator. They have muscular bodies and powerful forelimbs, as well as sharp, long claws. This makes them strong hunters capable of overpowering their prey as well as chasing them down if need be and pinning them down once they have caught their prey. They have large heads to accommodate powerful jaws and large teeth, as well as tail that is about half the length of its body which allows it to balance. They have exceptional eye sight and hearing which only adds to their prowess as a predator and also makes them effective at all times of day. Their striped coat, for which they are most well known, was an adaptation as a result of the tall grasses that thick undergrowth that makes up most of its habitat, allowing tigers to blend achieve better camouflage and be a more effective stealth predator than if they weren’t striped. Tigers, unlike most cats, love water. They are powerful swimmers as a result of their strong forelimbs, but the video below explains why they are so fond of swimming far better than I ever could.
Tigers are amongst the most recognisable and popular of the World’s charismatic megafauna. Charismatic megafauna are large animal species with symbolic value, widespread popular appeal and are often used by environmental activists to achieve their goals for conservation and protection. Other examples include the humpback whale, giant panda, African elephant, polar bear and the Western lowland gorilla.
Tigers are featured often in mythology and folklore and continues to be featured in literature and modern films, as well as appearing on many flags, coats of arms and as mascots for sporting teams (an example being the Cincinnati Bengals). The tiger is the national animal of India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and South Korea.
Another interesting fact I believe worth mentioning is that the tigers closest living relatives are not lions, jaguars or even leopards, but are in fact, snow leopards. Scientific research indicates that about 2.88 million years ago, the tiger and snow leopard lineages diverged from the other Panthera species. This would make tigers and snow leopards more closely related to each other than to other big cats.
The real king of the beasts!
Ligers are the largest big cats on Earth and do not exist outside of captivity. They are made from the mating of a male lion and a tigress. Unlike the other possible hybrid made from tigers and lions, tigons, ligers are much larger than both parent animals. The largest liger in existence is Hercules (pictured above). Hercules is more than 900 Ibs (922 Ibs as of 2013) and has gained this weight since he was 4 years old. Moreover, this weight of more than 900 Ibs allows Hercules to be heavier than the both of his parents’ weight combined! Hercules is a true record holder as he is not only the largest liger, but is also the largest carnivorous mammal in the World as well! Hercules resides at Myrtle Beach Safari, South Carolina, USA and it is possible to see this incredible cat up close and personal!
Don’t be such a fossil!
Contrary to what the name may suggest, sabre tooth tigers (otherwise known as smilodons) are not actually closely related to tigers or any other modern cat. So if these aren’t the true ancestors of tigers, what is?
Well we might as well start at the beginning of this vast family tree. I’d like to introduce the ancient ancestor of every modern predator, the miacid.
Miacids are extinct primitive carnivoramorphans within the family Miacidae that lived during the Paleocene and Eocene epochs millions of years ago. Miacids were inhabitants of our world for a period of about 29 million years.
Miacids are thought to have evolved into the modern carnivorous mammals with the order Carnivora. They were small carnivores, marten-like or civet-like with long, little bodies and long tails. Some species were aboral, whilst others lived at ground level. They most likely fed on invertebrates, birds, lizards and smaller mammals. Their skulls and teeth show that miacids were less developed than modern carnivores.
So what is the ancestor of the modern tiger then?
The answer to that question is quite fascinating. See below a picture of the ancestor of all modern tigers, the Longdan tiger.
Fossil remains of this intriguing tiger were found in the Gansu province of Northwestern China. This creature was around at the beginning of the Pleistocene (also colloquially known as the Ice Age) about 2 million years ago and is considered to be closely related to the modern tiger. It was about the size of a modern day jaguar and most likely did not possess the stripes that modern tigers are so well known for.
Despite being considered ‘primitive’, the Longdan tiger was functionally and possibly ecologically similar to modern day tigers. As it lived in Northwestern China, that is probably where the tiger lineage originated and tigers most likely grew in size as a response to the adaptive radiations of deer and bovids, which may have occurred in Southeast China during the early Pleistocene.
So there you have it, the natural wonder that is tigers. I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it. Please feel free to like and comment on this post as well as any of my other posts.