Tiger: The World's Largest and Most Powerful Cat

Scientific Name: Panthera Tigris

Tiger - Panthera tigris
Photo © Aditya Singh / Getty Images.

Tigers (Panthera tigris) are the largest and most powerful of all cats. They are extremely agile despite their large size. Tigers are capable of leaping 8 to 10 meters in a single bound. They are also among the most recognizable of cats due to their distinct orange coat, black stripes, and white markings.

There are five subspecies of tigers alive today and every one of these subspecies is classified as endangered. The five subspecies of tigers include Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers, Indochinese tigers, South China tigers, and Sumatran tigers. There are also three additional subspecies of tigers that have gone extinct during the past sixty years. The extinct subspecies include Caspian tigers, Javan tigers, and Bali tigers.

Tigers vary in color, size, and markings according to their subspecies. Bengal tigers, which inhabit the forests of India, have the quintessential tiger appearance, with a dark orange coat, black stripes, and a white underbelly. Siberian tigers, the largest of all the tiger subspecies, are lighter in color and have a thicker coat that enables them to brave the harsh, cold temperatures of the Russian taiga.

Tigers are solitary, territorial cats. They occupy a home range that is generally between 200 and 1000 square kilometers. Females occupying smaller home ranges than males. Tigers often create several dens within their territory. Tigers are not water-fearing cats. They are, in fact, adept swimmers capable of crossing moderately sized rivers. As a result, water rarely poses a barrier to them.

Tigers are carnivores. They are nocturnal hunters that feed on large prey such as deer, cattle, wild pigs, rhinoceroses, and elephants. They also supplement their diet with smaller prey such as birds, monkeys, fish, and reptiles. Tigers also feed on carrion.

Tigers historically occupied a range that stretched from the eastern part of Turkey to the Tibetan plateau, Manchuria and the Sea of Okhotsk. Today, tigers occupy only about seven percent of their former range. More than half of the remaining wild tigers live in the forests of India. Smaller populations remain in China, Russia, and parts of Southeast Asia.

Tigers inhabit a wide range of habitats such as lowland evergreen forests, taiga, grasslands, tropical forests, and mangrove swamps. They generally require habitat with cover such as forests or grasslands, water resources, and enough territory to support their prey.

Tigers undergo sexual reproduction. Although they are known to mate year-round, breeding usually peaks between November and April. Their gestation period is 16 weeks. A litter usually consists of between 3 and 4 cubs which are raised alone by the mother, the father plays no role in the upbringing of the cubs.

Size and Weight

About 4½-9½ feet long and 220-660 pounds


Carnivores are classified within the following taxonomic hierarchy:

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Carnivores > Cats > Large Cats > Tigers


Modern cats first appeared about 10.8 million years ago. The ancestors of tigers, along with those of jaguars, leopards, lions, snow leopards, and clouded leopards, split off from the other ancestral cat lineages early in the evolution of the cat family and today form what is known as the Panthera lineage. Tigers shared a common ancestor with snow leopards that lived about 840,000 years ago.

Conservation Status

Fewer than 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. More than half of those tigers live in the forests of India. The primary threats facing tigers include poaching, habitat loss, dwindling prey populations. Although protected areas have been established for tigers, illegal killings still take place mainly for their skins and use in traditional Chinese medical practices.