Assistant Professor of Zoological Medicine Andrew Cushing answered the question “Why do tigers have stripes?” for The Conversation’s “Curious Kids” series.
As a zoological veterinarian, Cushing has seen up close how various animals’ coats, feathers, colors, spots, and stripes have evolved to either help them attract a mate or disguise them. Camouflage, or cryptic coloration, allows them to hide undetected.
Since tigers are apex predators at the top of the food chain, they don’t need to hide from animals that might eat them. They are carnivores—they eat meat—and they rely on stealth to hunt successfully.
They’re helped by the limited vision of their preferred prey. Deer and other hoofed animals can’t see the full range of colors, much like a person with color blindness. It helps them see better in dim light, but it also makes them vulnerable. To their eyes, the tiger’s fur isn’t bright orange: it looks green and matches the background.
Tigers’ markings also play an important role. Their vertical stripes, which range from brown to black, are an example of what biologists call disruptive coloration. They help break up the cat’s shape and size so it blends in with trees and tall grasses. Read the full article on The Conversation. This article was translated into French and Indonesian.
UT is a member of The Conversation, an independent source for news articles and informed analysis written by the academic community and edited by journalists for the general public. Through our partnership, we seek to provide a better understanding of the important work of our faculty.
Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375, firstname.lastname@example.org)