Skin and Coat

Skin & Coat - Page 1&2: Description | 3: A Game: Coat Confusion!

The pelage or coat of the tiger:

The correct name for the fur coat of any mammal is a 'pelage'. In the tiger it consists of many individual hairs, each of a certain thickness and length depending upon which area of the cat's body it grows on. Males, particularly of the Amur subspecies, grow a well defined ruff of fur around their necks and in that subspecies the coat becomes somewhat longer and thicker during the winter months. In all subspecies the tail is ringed and the ears have a white spot on the rear.

Pelage colours vary greatly among tigers. In general, northern tigers (Russia, northern China) have lighter coats. Southern tigers (Malaysia and Sumatra) are darker.

The ground colour on a standard tiger may be anything from yellow, to orange, to a reddish colour, with parts of the head, neck, chest and inside limbs pure white. With the right genetic combination in the parents white tigers may be born, and black or melanistic tigers have also been recorded, though a live specimen has never been photographed, only pelts.


Stripes can be grey or brown through to black and some areas may be spots as against stripes. Spotting is particularly obvious on Corbett's tiger (also called the Indochinese tiger. Shown below).

The same applies to white tigers. Their striping can vary in colour from a ghost stripe (only obvious under the right angle of light reflection), to various greys, through to dark chocolate brown.

Tiger stripes are like human fingerprints and no two tigers are ever marked the same. Stripes vary in width, pattern and number. They are different between subspecies, members of the same subspecies, and even from one side an individual to the other. 

Though facial markings and stripes may be different on each animal, it is not practical to use these for identification due to the tiger's nocturnal and secretive habits. However, they may be used in conjunction with pug marks and other identifying features (scarring from injuries, ear nicks, etc) to get a firm identification of a cat.

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Scientists have yet to determine exactly why tigers are striped, but the obvious reason is that the pattern is a disruptive camouflage to hide the tiger from their prey. The striping has the effect of breaking up the animal's outline as it stalks through, or hides in long grass. They also draw the eye away from the true shape of the predator, a shape which prey species would normally react to.

Oddly striped tigers:

Reports persist in parts of Malaysia regarding a larger than usual tiger with stripes running down the body from head to tail. This tiger seems only to have been sighted by natives and there is no photographic or other evidence to support the claims. It has been suggested that shadows cast from overhead trees could give this false impression.

Striping of that type would be much less effective. Longitudinal stripes would emphasis the outline of a predator and make it much more recognisable to potential prey.

 (Continued Page 2)

Skin & Coat - Page 1&2: Description | 3: A Game: Coat Confusion!

 Taxonomy | Whiskers | Hearing & Ear Spots | Eyesight | Smell | Teeth | Communication | Flehman | Genetics |
Life Span | Streaking | Claws, Paws & Pug Marks | Skin & Coat | Gait | Tail | Cleanliness & Tongue |
Skeleton & Internal Organs | Big Cat/Small Cat?

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Photography With Thanks To WhoZoo (Photo 1)
Tiger Touch (Photos 2-3)
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