Tiger, the largest member of the cat family. Tigers live in forests, savannas, and swamps in Asia. They are classified into five subspecies—Bengal, Chinese, Indochinese, Siberian (Amur), and Sumatran. Three subspecies—Bali, Caspian, and Javan—are believed to have become extinct since the 1940's.

Tigers range in length from about five feet (1.5 m) to more than nine feet (2.7 m), excluding a two- to three-foot (60- to 90-cm) tail. They weigh from about 200 to 660 pounds (90 to 300 kg). The body and tail are encircled by vertical stripes that are black, brown, or gray. The background color ranges from reddish-orange to almost white. Occasionally completely white or completely black specimens are found.

Tiger Image Gallery

The tigerThe tiger is the largest member of the cat family.
See more tiger pictures.

Tigers are solitary and territorial animals; territories are between 7 to 65 square miles (20 to 180 km2) in size. Within this area, a tiger may have a number of dens in caves, hollow trees, and dense vegetation. Tigers hunt primarily at night, feeding mainly on large mammals, such as wild cattle, antelope, and deer. A tiger stalks its prey, crawling silently until within striking distance; then it leaps at the victim and kills it by strangulation or by biting its neck. Some tigers have been known to regularly hunt and eat humans, but most will attack only if threatened or wounded.

Mating occurs most frequently from November to April. Usually two or three cubs are born after a gestation period of about 100 days. The newborn cubs weigh two to three pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kg). The tigress cares for the young until they are able to fend for themselves—after about 12 to 18 months.

Tigers can interbreed with lions. A tigon is a hybrid between a male tiger and a female lion; a liger, between a male lion and a female tiger.

Tigers are highly endangered. There are probably fewer than 8,000 in the wild. Although tigers are now protected by law, they are often hunted for their pelts. Many are also killed illegally for their bones and other body parts, which are used to make folk medicines. Habitat destruction is another threat to tigers. Several nature reserves for tigers have been established.

How Big Is a Tiger?

An average adult male tiger weighs about 420 pounds (190 kilograms) and is 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, including its tail. That means that an adult male tiger can be bigger than an adult male lion. But a tiger can grow even bigger than that. The Siberian tiger is the largest wild cat of all. It can weigh nearly 800 pounds (360 kilograms) and measure up to 13 feet (4 meters) long, including its tail.

Siberian tigers are not only bigger than their relatives that live to the south, but their coats are different, too. Siberian tigers grow thick, shaggy coats that help keep them warm during the long, cold winters of the far north. And just like other tigers, Siberian tigers have coats with stripes.

Why Are a Tiger’s Stripes Important?

A tiger’s stripes camouflage (KAM uh flahzh) the tiger, or help it blend in with its surroundings. The dark brown or black stripes can cover a tiger from its head to the tip of its long tail. But no two tigers have the same pattern of stripes.Tigers live in all types of forests, wetlands, and grasslands. Because of their stripes, tigers hunting in these habitats can’t be seen by their prey. This helps tigers be very successful predators.

Despite their huge size, tigers are silent and sneaky hunters. Tigers mostly hunt large prey, such as wild pigs and deer. Sometimes, they even hunt young rhinoceroses and elephants. They often hide near rivers and ponds, waiting for prey to come for a drink. Tigers are also excellent swimmers. They sometimes chase prey out into deep waters to make a kill.

The tiger is Panthera (or Neofelis) tigris of the cat family, Felidae.