You may have heard of an old adage that says, “a tiger can’t change its stripes”, but they sort of can! Tigers come in a few color variations, usually the iconic orange with black stripes, but there are also white tigers, golden tigers, and “black tigers”.
This is the most common coloration for tigers. Their coat is a vibrant orange color with distinct black stripes. The background color can vary from pale to deep orange. This coloration, along with their stripes, gives them camouflage in their natural habitat, helping them blend into the tall grasses and shadows of the forest. You may be curious how a bright orange tiger is camouflaged too well when its environment is mostly green. Most of a tiger’s prey are actually red-green color blind! They can’t distinguish between orange or green tones, therefore, those tigers blend in very well with the surrounding environment.
White tigers are not albino, snow, or Siberian tigers like people sometimes think they are. They simply have a genetic condition called leucism that reduces the pigmentation in their fur. They have a creamy white coat, with stripes that vary due to influence and interaction of other genes. These stripes can range in color. They can be dark to light brown, gray, or cream colored, and can sometimes be very pale, almost invisible at times. Those white tigers that appear “stripeless” are referred to as pure white tigers. White tigers are very rare; we do not see them in the wild today, and they only occur in captivity due to inbreeding.
Sometimes also referred to as golden tabby tigers, strawberry tabby tigers, or simply ‘strawberry tigers’, these tigers have a lighter, golden-colored coat with variations in shade from pale gold to a richer hue. They can have a slightly reddish tint, which is why they are occasionally referred to as strawberry tigers. Golden tigers also have stripes that are much paler than a typical tiger, and these stripes sometimes fade into large patches or spots. Their coloration is not due to them being a separate subspecies, but it is similar to white tigers in that it’s a genetic anomaly, and only occurs due to inbreeding today. This is the result of two copies of a recessive wide-band gene.
These tigers are some of the rarest creatures on earth, but they only exist in captivity due to inbreeding. There are an estimated 30 or so of them in the entire world, but many more carriers of the gene. We are very lucky to have two of them here at Turpentine!
Pseudo-melanistic, or “black tigers”, are tigers with a genetic mutation that causes wide and merged stripes. This is extremely rare in tigers…unless you’re in the Similipal Tiger Reserve, then 1 in 3 tigers are “black”. This population of tigers is so isolated that they aren’t breeding with tigers outside of their range and therefore, they’ve started to maintain genetic changes over time. This could be bad for them though, as isolated and inbred populations are prone to extinction over shorter periods of time.