When someone mentions a tiger, people immediately think of stripes!
Tigers rely on their stripes for camouflage. Tigers live in forested or grassy areas. The dark stripes help them blend in with the shadows of their environment. This makes them harder to see by prey and predators. Their large bodies become smaller and broken up, lessening the perceived threat of a 200-600 pound animal coming straight for you! This type of camouflage is called disruptive coloration. You can find this in many species, including other cat species like leopards, jaguars, and servals, but also in prey species, like giraffes and zebras. A study in 2009 defined disruptive coloration as “a set of markings that creates the appearance of false edges and boundaries and hinders the detection or recognition of an object’s, or part of an object’s, true outline and shape.” This is exactly how a tiger’s stripes work. When in a shadowy environment, the stripes make it hard to tell exactly how big the tiger is because each stripe could appear as the beginning or end of the cat, leading to a false sense of security.
Tiger stripes are very important to their camouflage. So when a tiger is born without stripes, their camouflage success greatly decreases. With this in mind, tigers without stripes are rarely born in the wild. Instead, people breed these animals for those markings in captivity. This is how we get golden tabby tigers or pure white, stripeless tigers. TCWR is home to 2 golden tabby tigers that have no black striping at all. They have golden stripes that match the color of their fur. These stripes don’t provide disruptive coloration, meaning that golden tabby tigers would be easy to spot by predators and prey alike. TCWR is also home to 3 pure white, stripeless tigers. All three of these cats lack the black striping along their entire body, with their darkest stripes being at the ends of their tails. Being white already makes these cats easy to spot in the wild, but being stripeless makes it even easier. A tiger’s stripes are very important to their survival, so there is no reason for these stripeless varieties to exist.
Each tiger has a completely unique set of stripes. Even litter mates can be easily differentiated by their stripe pattern. All of our tiger siblings here have a distinct set of markings we can use to identify them. This is additionally important for tiger conservation. In conservational settings, where scientists need to be able to identify a certain cat, knowing a stripe pattern makes it possible to track the correct cat throughout their life. This allows conservationists to accurately count tiger populations since they can identify each cat as a unique individual.
Tiger stripes go all the way to the skin! A tiger’s stripes can be seen on their skin when you shave their fur away. This means that it is impossible for a tiger to change their stripes. They’re permanent, similar to human tattoos.
We have around 50 tigers at TCWR. That’s 50 completely unique stripe patterns. Come visit, see if you can spot the differences, and identify some tigers!