Hearing and Ear Spots

Hearing ability in tigers:

The tiger's hearing is its most highly developed sense and it is far more dependent upon hearing than sight or smell.

Cats are able to hear over a very wide range of frequencies from 200 Hz to 100 kHz; this is five times better than human hearing. In mouse catchers this ability to hear very high frequency sound enables cats to locate their prey from the ultrasonic communication used by many rodents.

In the tiger, such acute hearing allows these big cats to distinguish the rustle of leaves in the breeze from the sound of an animal brushing through the undergrowth. It is thought that other animals can be identified from the sounds they make during movement, allowing the tiger to concentrate on preferred prey. Tests have shown that tigers can seek out a grazing animal with less than a five degree error.

When tiger hunting was a common activity some tigers became so wary of the noise of rifles being loaded that they instantly retreated. It seems that a twig breaking beneath a human foot, or the sound of a man breathing from within a hide, is also readily identified.

Ear spots:

All subspecies of tiger have white spots or 'flashes' on the backs of their ears; the reasons for these remain mostly unknown.

It has been speculated that these markings are illusory 'eyes' to fool prey, or they may serve to discourage other predators who normally hunt and attack from behind.

Another suggestion is that young cubs use these to find and follow their mothers in tall grass. When a tigress drops into the stalking position, with ears flattened against her head, these spots are obscured so making it more difficult for the cubs to follow and ruin the kill. This suggestion is weakened by the fact that these spots appear on both males and females -- and males have nothing at all to do with the raising of cubs.

It is more likely that ear spots are a signal of aggression. A tiger under threat will rotate the ears in such a way that the spots can be seen from the front so providing a visual warning.

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