Bengal Tiger: Characteristics, Habitat, Feeding, Behavior

The Bengal tiger ( Panthera tigris tigris ) is a placental mammal that belongs to the Felidae family. Its body is covered in rusty orange fur, with a black cross-striped pattern. The inside of the legs and the belly are white.

In this group there are subspecies that present a white coloration. This is the product of a genetic combination, where a recessive gene is expressed by combining with another gene for the same condition. Thus, the white Bengal tiger has sky blue eyes, white hair and brown or black body stripes.

Bengal tiger. Source: Hollingsworth, John and Karen, retouched by Zwoenitzer [Public domain]

This wild cat is found in India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. In relation to its habitat, it prefers swamps, tropical forests and humid and deciduous forests.

He is an excellent swimmer, being able to easily cross rivers 6 to 8 kilometers wide. When swimming, it can reach a speed of 29 km / h. He does not usually climb trees, but if he needs to, he will do so with great dexterity.

The Bengal tiger is a solitary hunter that ambushes and dominates its prey, using its strength and weight, to capture larger animals.

Article index

  • one

    Evolution

    • 1.1

      Subspecies

  • two

    General characteristics

    • 2.1

      Fur

    • 2.2

      Size

    • 23

      Jaw and teeth

    • 2.4

      Teeth

    • 2.5

      Osseous system

  • 3

    Habitat and distribution

    • 3.1

      India

    • 3.2

      Bangladesh

    • 3.3

      Nepal

    • 3.4

      Bhutan

  • 4

    Taxonomy and classification

  • 5

    State of conservation

    • 5.1

      Threats

    • 5.2

      Climate change

    • 5.3

      Actions

  • 6

    Reproduction

    • 6.1

      The babies

  • 7

    Feeding

    • 7.1

      Hunting methods

  • 8

    Behaviour

  • 9

    References

Evolution

During the Paleocene and Eocene, around 65 and 33 million years ago, the Miacidae family existed. This clade is considered as the predecessor of the current Carnivora order, which diversified, giving rise to the Caniformia and Feliformia suborders.

As for the Felidae family, whose origin was at the end of the Eocene, it is made up of the leopard, the jaguar, the tiger, the lion and the snow leopard. In relation to the ancestors of felines, some experts consider that Proailurus lemanensis was one of these.

Said carnivore, it was a small animal. It had a long tail and strong, sharp claws, which could have been retractable.

The first genus of this family to divide was Panthera , the common ancestor being Panthera palaeosinensis.  It lived during the Upper Pliocene and Lower Pleistocene, in the area that is now known as China and on the island of Java.

The fossil found lacked the upper canines, however the lower canines were present. These had the vertical grooves that characterize the tusks of members of the genus Panthera.

Subspecies

In recent studies, based on samples of skin, blood and hair of 134 tigers distributed in diverse geographic ranges, six subspecies were identified. The results, product of the sequential analysis of the mitochondrial DNA, indicate that among these the genetic variation is low.

However, there is a significant subdivision between the populations of the five subspecies that are currently alive. In addition, specialists identified a distinct partition for Panthera tigris corbetti , located on the Malaysian peninsula and in Indochina.

Thus, the genetic structure suggests the recognition of six subspecies: Amur tiger ( P. t. Altaica ), North Indochinese tiger ( P. t. Corbetti ), South China tiger ( P. t. Amoyensis ), Malayan tiger ( P. t. jacksonii ), Sumatran tiger ( P. t. sumatrae ) and Bengal tiger ( P. t. tigris ).

General characteristics

Bengal tiger, Bannerghatta Biological Park, Karnataka. Pallavibarman10 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Fur

The hair color is light orange to yellow, on the contrary, the belly and the internal parts of the limbs are white. As for the stripes, which can be from dark brown to black, they are vertical, except for the tail that turn into rings.

The density and shape of the stripes are different between each subspecies, but the vast majority have more than 100 stripes. Experts point out that these stripes may possibly act as camouflage, keeping the animal hidden from predators and prey.

Additionally, each tiger has a distinctive pattern that could potentially be used to identify it. However, it is difficult to record the stripe pattern in a wild Bengal tiger, so it is not usually one of the most widely used identification methods.

White Bengal Tiger

Zoo in Nehru. Abhishekp80 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

The white Bengal tiger is a recessive mutant of the tiger, which is not associated with albinism. This particular genetic condition leads to a substitution of the orange color of the coat for a white one, with no changes in the tone of the stripes.

This occurs when the tiger inherits two recessive genes associated with pale coloration. These cats have pink noses, blue eyes, and white or cream fur, with black, gray, or chocolate-colored stripes.

The white tiger is not a separate subspecies and can be crossed with the orange tiger, whose young are fertile. In the wild they have been sighted in Assam, Bihar, Bengal and in Rewa.

Size

In the Bengal tiger there is sexual dimorphism, since the male is larger than the female. Thus, the male is about 270 to 310 centimeters long and weighs between 180 and 258 kilograms. As for the weight of the female it ranges from 100 to 160 kilograms and the body measures from 240 to 265 centimeters.

Weight may vary depending on the region that Panthera tigris tigris inhabits . In Chitwan, males weigh an average of 221 kilograms, while those living in central India weigh 190 kilograms, while females weigh 131 kilograms.

The smallest subspecies are located in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh, where the adult female can measure from 75 to 80 kilograms.

Jaw and teeth

Male resting in Kanha National Park. Bonyoraj [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The jaw and teeth of the Bengal tiger are two very important structures in hunting behavior, diet and in its lifestyle in general.

These have morphological and functional characteristics that allow the feline to capture large prey that are in motion, break its neck, crush tendons and bones and grind meat.

The jaw is strong and powerful. The muscles found in it are attached directly to the upper area of ​​the skull, specifically in the distal crest. In relation to the lower jaw, it only moves up and down, it cannot move from side to side.

In this way, the jaw becomes a strong lever for the bite, a very important factor in the process of capturing and consuming the prey.

Teeth

In relation to the teeth of Panthera tigris tigris , it has a total of 30 teeth. The molars and premolars are perfectly adapted for chewing and grinding meat. Thus, once the feline has torn the prey, it can process the large pieces, before being digested.

As for canines, they are the longest among living felines. They measure from 7.5 to 10 centimeters, being used to kill and maim the animals it hunts. Between the molar teeth and the canines there is a space, which facilitates the immobilization of the prey, even if it tries to twist to escape.

Puppies are born without teeth, but after a few days they start to grow out. At around six months, the baby teeth fall out and are replaced by an adult denture.

In the process of change, the animal is never without one of the teeth. Adult teeth grow behind milk teeth and, when fully developed, replace them.

Osseous system

The skull of this wild cat is round and short. In this, the cerebellum and the brain are divided by a septum of bone. This more effectively protects these structures.

The hind limbs are longer than the forelimbs. This allows the mammal to jump strongly, being able to cover approximately ten meters in one jump. As for the front limbs, they have solid bones, so they are capable of supporting a large number of muscles.

Its front legs have strong bones, making them capable of supporting a large amount of muscle tissue. This resistance is important for the Bengal tiger, since with these legs it grabs and holds its prey, even while it is running at high speeds.

Relative to the clavicle, it is small compared to the rest of the skeleton. This makes it easier for the animal to take longer strides. Another characteristic of the skeleton is its spinal column. This has 30 vertebrae and is extended to the end of the tail.

Habitat and distribution

Distribution Panthera tigris tigris

The main populations of Panthera tigris tigris are found in India, but smaller groups exist in Nepal, Bangladesh and in Bhutan. They could also be distributed in some areas of Burma and China.

The Bengal tiger is an animal that adapts easily to various habitats. This is why it can live in several regions, as long as they offer cover, water sources and abundance of prey. Thus, it usually inhabits swamps, tropical forests and in areas with tall grasses.

Within the territory, this feline may have one or more shelters. These can be trees, caves or areas with dense vegetation.

In the Indian subcontinent, the Bengal tiger inhabits evergreen tropical moist forests, subtropical and tropical moist deciduous forests, and tropical dry forests. Also, it can live in mangroves, alluvial grasslands, and temperate and subtropical highland forests.

Previously it was located in the rivers, grasslands and in the humid semi-deciduous forests that were around the river systems of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. However, these lands are currently degraded or converted to agricultural lands.

India

In general, the population of these cats is fragmented and depends largely on the wildlife corridors, which connect the protected areas.

In that country, habitat in temperate and subtropical forests includes the Manas-Namdapha Tiger Conservation Units. In relation to the subspecies that inhabit the tropical dry forest, they are found in the Hazaribagh Wildlife Sanctuary and in the Kanha-Indrawati corridor.

The dry forest ecosystems are in the Panna National Park and the Melghat Tiger Reserve. As for the tropical deciduous forests, they are one of the most productive for this feline.

In contrast, tropical moist evergreen forests are the least inhabited by Panthera tigris tigris . In central India, it is distributed in the Brahmaputra floodplains and in the hills to the northeast of the region.

Bangladesh

At present, this subspecies is relegated to the forests of the Sundarbans and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Sundarbans National Park is the only mangrove habitat in that region where Bengal tigers survive. These usually swim between the islands that make up the delta, to hunt the prey.

Nepal

Tiger communities in the Terai (Nepal) are divided into three subpopulations, which are separated by farming areas and villages. The vast majority live in Parsa National Park and Chitwan National Park.

To the east of Chitwan, is the Bardia National Park. Smaller groups are located in the Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve.

Bhutan

In Bhutan, the Panthera tigris tigris inhabits regions ranging from 200 to more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Thus, they can live both in the subtropical foothills and in the temperate forests of the north.

Taxonomy and classification

-Animal Kingdom.

-Subreino: Bilateria.

-Filum: Cordado.

-Subfilum: Vertebrate.

-Superclass: Tetrapoda.

-Class: Mammal.

-Subclass: Theria.

-Infracclass: Eutheria.

-Order: Carnivora.

-Suborder: Feliformia.

-Family: Felidae.

-Subfamily: Pantherinae.

-Gender: Panthera.

-Species: Panthera tigris .

-Subspecies: Panthera tigris tigris.            

State of conservation

Bengal tiger in Bannergatta National Park (Bangladesh). Nidhi.pious996 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

In the last century, Bengal tiger populations declined dramatically, with a tendency for the number of these cats to continue to decline. This is why the IUCN has categorized Panthera tigris tigris as an endangered animal.

Threats

One of the main threats is poaching. Over time, the illicit demand for their skin, organs, and bones has continued. This is because they are often used in traditional medicine.

Although their commercialization has been banned, the enormous demand for these products has not diminished. Thus, unfortunately the capture and death of the Bengal tiger has become a highly lucrative activity for man.

In addition, farmers shoot these cats, because they attack and kill their livestock. Others poison them, to evade protection laws. Later, the tiger is found dead, without the authorities being able to hold anyone responsible for this.

Another factor that affects Panthera tigris tigris is the degradation of its habitat. This is fragmented due to logging and the occupation of its natural habitat by agricultural and urban spaces. This causes depletion of prey, interspecific competition, and conflict between human and tiger.

Climate change

Experts point out that climate change could cause a rise in sea level of approximately 45 centimeters. This situation could lead to the destruction of around 75% of the Sundarbans mangroves. This coastal area has more than 10,000 km2 and constitutes one of the largest reserves of the Bengal tiger.

Actions

Fortunately for this subspecies, starting in the 1970s, several reserves were established in India, through the Tiger Project. This has contributed to the stabilization of some of their populations.

Likewise, in 1972, the Indian Wildlife Protection Act granted full power to the government to take the conservation measures it deems appropriate. In addition, there are some official organizations that are responsible for protecting the communities of these cats and stopping the actions of poachers.

Reproduction

The female of this subspecies can reproduce when she is between 3 and 4 years old, while the male does it around 4 and 5 years. Regarding heat, the female is receptive for 3 to 6 days and the interval between each estrus is approximately 3 to 9 weeks.

The male takes care of the territory where numerous females live, with whom he can mate, forming a couple only during the reproductive season. Regarding mating, it can occur almost at any time of the year, however, the peak of sexual activity is usually from November to February.

The reproduction of the Bengal tiger is viviparous and the gestation period lasts between 104 and 106 days. The birth of the cubs occurs in a cave, dense vegetation or in a rocky cleft.

The babies

The litter can be made up of one to six puppies, although normally it is two to four. The hatchling, the calf weighs around 780 and 1600 grams and has its eyes closed. These are opened after 6 to 14 days.

Its body is covered with thick fur, which sheds when it is between 3.5 and 5 months old. Regarding their diet, the mother breastfeeds them for a period of 3 to 6 months and they begin to explore the terrain together when they are around 6 months of age.

The female teaches her young some hunting techniques and some general rules of survival. They generally live together for two years, however that time may extend for another year or two.

When the cubs leave the family group, they set out in search of an area to establish their own territory. In relation to young males, they tend to move away from the maternal home range at a much greater distance than females. Once the family has separated, the female goes into heat again.

Feeding

Ranthambore Reserve. Harsh.kabra.98 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

The Panthera tigris tigris is an excellent hunter and feeds on a great diversity of prey. Large ungulates include the chital or spotted deer, sambar deer ( Cervus unicolor ), barking deer ( Muntiacus muntjak ), gaur ( Bos gaurus ) and wild pig ( Sus scrofa ).

It also hunts gaur, water buffalo, antelope, and wild boar. They can occasionally capture and kill predators such as crocodiles, Indian wolves, foxes, sloths, Asian black bears.

Likewise, when its main prey are scarce, it can consume birds, monkeys, hares, porcupines and peacocks. Motivated by the fact that humans have invaded their habitat, this feline usually attacks domestic livestock.

Hunting methods

To hunt, the Bengal tiger mainly uses its hearing and sight, rather than smell. It generally stalks prey cautiously, approaching from behind until it is as close as possible, without being discovered.

Then he pounces on it and tries to knock it down and grab it by the throat. The death of the animal usually occurs by a deep bite in the neck or by strangulation. This feline does not eat the corpse in the same place where it was hunted. Drags it to a secluded area, usually where there is abundant cover.

After having eaten, the Panthera tigris tigris may cover the remains with some herbs, returning in subsequent days to finish consuming the prey. This subspecies could eat more than 40 kilograms of meat at one time. This is because you can eventually go several days without eating.

Behaviour

The social unit of this subspecies is formed by a female and her offspring. Adults congregate temporarily, during courtship and mating. Also, they may group briefly around large prey to share their meat.

Outside of this, the Bengal tiger’s habits are solitary. Even those who share the same territory are usually kept separated from each other by a distance of 2 to 5 kilometers.

In relation to their habits, they are usually nocturnal. During the day, they frequently rest in the shade and go out in search of their food at dawn or at nightfall.

Specialists point out that this feline could roar to warn the rest of the pack that it has hunted a prey. It could also be associated with mating, since it uses it to attract the opposite sex.

It can also make other vocalizations, such as growls and purrs. Another way to communicate is by using chemical signals, thus marking their territory with their feces and urine.

In addition, it can express its mood with some movements of its tail. For example, if the tail is erect down and is waved back and forth, it represents friendship.

References

  1. Wikipedia (2019). Bengal tiger. Recovered from en.wikipedia.org.
  2. Chundawat, RS, Khan, JA, Mallon, DP (2011). Panthera tigris ssp. tigris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011. Retrieved from iucnredlist.org.
  3. Mazák JH, Christiansen P, Kitchener AC (2012). Oldest Known Pantherine Skull and Evolution of the Tiger. Recovered from journals.plos.org.
  4. ITIS (2019). Panthera tigris tigris. Recovered from itis.gov.
  5. Shivish Bhandari, Mukesh Kumar Chalise, Chiranjibi Prasad Pokharel (2017). Diet of Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Recovered from content.scando.com.
  6. Tigers-world (2019). Bengal tiger. Recovered from tigers-world.com.
  7. Laura Wood (2018). The Characteristics & Physical Features of a Tiger. Recovered from sciencing.com.

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