Categories: Tiger

Tiger stripes – some detailed information

There are three main types of variation in tiger appearance: body size, striping patterns and the coloration of the skin and skull characteristics. This post is about tiger stripes.

Tiger stripes. Photos in public domain on Pinterest and montaged by PoC.

The ground colour of tigers’s skins (pelages) varies from dark red to pale yellow. It reflects their habitat and the humidity of the area where they live. Darker coloured tigers are found in the tropical rainforest of south-east Asia and the Sunda Islands. The Amur tiger (in Siberia, Russia) is often pale especially when in the winter coat. There is, however, variation within populations. In other words, Amur tigers can have a similar darkness of colouration to the darker coloured tigers of Southeast Asia and vice versa.

The coloration of the stripes may vary too. Amur tigers have dark brown stripes. However, tigers in the north where there are longer periods of daylight in the summer months may have lighter stripes because of fading of the pigment (melanin) in the hair strands which create the stripes. Black stripes may fade to brown and the darker ground colours may become paler during the year.

Moulting (shedding fur) Amur tigers in a breeding centre near Harbin, China had black stripes on their new darker summer coat. This contrasted with the brown stripes of their paler winter coat.

Tiger subspecies can be characterised on the basis of their striping patterns. For example, in 1981, a scientist, Mazak, was able to distinguish Sunda Island tigers because of the higher frequency of their stripes which often end in a line of spots. Whereas Sumatran tigers are normally described as having thicker stripes than tigers from Java. Amur tigers are said to have thinner stripes than Bengal tigers. That said, in a study of 1992 by Hepter and Sludskii it was found that Amur and Caspain tigers (now extinct) “displayed a wide variety of striping patterns and ground colour variations”.

In a tiger collection in the Natural History Museum, London and the National Museums of Scotland one scientist placed scores against the coloration and striping patterns of the tiger skins reflecting seven characteristics.

Tiger pelages chart

Each characteristic was given a score of either one or three as shown in the table above with an intermediate character state of 2 if necessary. A score of three means the skin was light and the stripes thin. Scores of one reflect dark skins with thick abundance stripes. For each skin the character scores were totaled to give a specimen score. You can see from the table that the single Siberian tiger (altaica) has a high score indicating a light coloured skin with thin striping while the Bengal tiger (tigris tigris) has a darker pelage and thick, abundant stripes.

The results indicated a bigger range of tiger stripes and colouring between subspecies that is normally described. Sunda tigers normally have low scores (dark, well-striped skins) while Indian tigers (Bengal tigers) have very variable scores.

The table below shows a number of stripes on the mid-flank of tiger pelages
in the collection of the Natural History Museum, London and from photographs in Mazak (1996).

Number of tiger stripes by species chart

The chart shows that the species of tiger with the lowest number of stripes is the Siberian tiger while the tiger with the largest number of stripes is the Javan tiger (sondaica) and the Bali tiger (balica). Both of these species of tiger are extinct. The Siberian Tiger and the Bengal Tiger are both extant (i.e. currently living in the wild albeit in small numbers).



How much land do tigers need?

The home range size of female tigers in Nagarahole NP where there are or were high prey densities is about ...
Read More

How do tigers communicate?

Tigers communicate with a combination of vocalisations, scent marks and visual signals. Each tiger hunts alone but they live within ...
Read More

How big is a tiger’s paw?

A tiger's paw is enormous! The enormous size is made clear when you compare it with the size of a ...
Read More

What do big cats smell like?

This is a slightly bizarre but also interesting question thrown up by a Google search. You won't find the answer ...
Read More

Picture of a tigress and her cubs

This is a great picture of a tigress and her three cubs. I believe it was taken by Swetha Kumar ...
Read More

Do big cats play with laser pointers?

No, big cats do not play with laser pointers. We can thank Big Cat Rescue (BCR) for finding out conclusively ...
Read More

Why are there no big cats in Australia?

People ask why there are no big cats in Australia but they could also ask a much wider question namely, ...
Read More
Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

Recent Posts

Japanese shopowner replaces ceiling tiles with transparent ones for their cats

This is a cool solution for a cat guardian and shopowner who wants to allow…

58 mins ago

600 rescue cats and dogs in a Hercules C-130 plane in historic flight

The charities involved have shipped 600 rescue cats and dogs from Hawaiian animal shelters in…

2 hours ago

Spot the witches hat in this bank of feline faces at night

A Halloween puzzle to kill a few minutes. This is what a witches hat looks…

3 hours ago

Domestic cat’s highly-acidic digestive system

The domestic cat's digestive organs quite closely resemble those of humans. Working backwards they are…

15 hours ago

It’s National Cat Day in the US so what can I do about it?

National Cat Day was started to highlight cats at cat rescue shelters and to celebrate…

19 hours ago

Chicago cat shelter sells groups of feral cats for up to $600 to combat city’s rat problem

The CNN video tells us that Chicago has the worst rat problem in America. A…

1 day ago