Tiger, tiger, burning bite!

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the biggest cat in the world, and its power, majesty, and predatory grace have made it a symbol of might for many cultures in history. William Blake’s poem ‘The Tiger’ characterizes it as a powerful creature of ‘fearful symmetry’, which can only be comprehended by ‘immortal hand or eye’. The tiger is an incredible package of strength and stealth, rounded off with huge fangs and claws, but it is the versatile predatory techniques of the tiger that make it so well-suited to its ecological niche as an apex predator.

The precisely aimed killing bite is an advanced predatory mechanism, and tigers have two ways of inflicting it: the nape bite, where the tiger aims to split the cervical vertebrae of the prey animal, and the throat bite, where the tiger twists the prey animal’s head while anchoring it to the ground. The throat bite gives the tiger a weapon against prey too large for its teeth to penetrate the prey’s vertebrae. In conjunction with the use of their forepaws to grasp and hold down their prey, tigers choose what type of bite to use based on the size of the prey animal: if the prey is more than half the weight of the tiger, a throat bite will be utilized (Seidensticker & McDougal, 1993).

This versatility means that tigers are plastic, not stereotypic in their predatory behaviour – they have killing methods tailored for different sized prey, and their ability to kill large animals (more than 175kg) (Karanth & Sunquist, 1995) gives them access to the large mammalian biomass such as sambar (Cervis unicolor) as prey in their environments. Watch the tigress stalk sambar! (video)

Tigers’ bites grant them great predatory versatility, and this makes them important in controlling the ecological communities of their environment (Seidensticker & McDougal, 1993). This will have further implications on informing tiger conservation and relocation efforts.


By Zachary Low (Group 35)


Literature Cited

Karanth, K. U. and Sunquist, M. E., 1995. Prey selection by tiger, leopard, and dhole in tropical forests. Journal of Animal Ecology ,64: 439-450. URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10088/4410

Seidensticker, J. and McDougal, C., 1993. Tiger Predatory Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation. Symposium of the Zoological Society of London, 65: 105-125. URL: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/5647?uid=3738992&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102119127107

Blake, W., 1794. “The Tiger”. URL: http://www.bartleby.com/101/489.html (Accessed on 9 March 2013).