Why do tigers have stripes?

Close up of a tiger faceOver the years, there have been a number of legends and myths concerning how tigers got their stripes. In actuality, their stripes are simply a product of evolution. They have genetically adapted to their environment. While lions and tigers are the largest among all cat breeds, and have no predators aside from humans, they still need their stripes to help them blend into their natural habitat. This skill is known as camouflaging. To camouflage yourself means to blend in well with your surroundings, potentially preventing notice from predators.

Tigers are native to Asia, where they live in the tall grass and knotted undergrowth. They use their stripes for camouflage, allowing them to sneak up on their prey undetected. Since most of their prey do not see colour, they would not notice the bright orange as we would. To them, the tiger’s vibrant stripes would look like bands of shadow and light in the grass. Their camouflaging abilities also help them protect their young, as there is much less of a chance that a potential predator would attack a small, helpless cub if they can’t see it. 

There are a number of different ways an animal might disguise or camouflage itself. Much like how a tiger’s stripes help it blend into its grassy surroundings, a cheetah’s spots and light colouring help it remain undetected in its barren landscape, dotted with small vegetation. Another form of camouflage is known as mimicry. Animals that use this disguise would be known as “copy cats”. One such species is the Viceroy moth. It is a completely harmless insect, who in an effort to protect itself from potential predators mimics the colouring and patterning of the deadly Monarch Butterfly. You can see how a viceroy would benefit from this form of camouflage. Another example would be the unique butterfly whose wing pattern looks exactly like the eyes of an owl. Since this butterfly is nocturnal, it is able to stop on the trunk of a tree and spread its wings wide when it senses the presence of a predator. Any animal that would be tempted to eat a little butterfly would likely be terrified at the thought of facing a fearsome owl. Other mammals, lizards and insects are able to mimic parts of their environment, such as a leaf, twig, branch, or flower petal.

Resources

The following is a list of helpful websites that can give you more insight to all of the different aspects covered in this article.

For more about a tiger’s stripes, visit this amazing facts site.
For information on camouflage, look into wikipedia or see different examples of animal mimicry.

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