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Tiger Anatomy & Physical Characteristics – Everything You Wanted To Know

Tigers have 432 bones and 600 muscles, and all parts of their anatomy contribute to their status as apex predators. They are the largest cats in the world with the Siberian tiger being the largest living subspecies

In this article, we dissect the extraordinary anatomy of tigers that keeps them at the top of the food chain.

Physical Characteristics of Tigers

Tigers are easily recognized by their orange coat and brown or black stripes. Their coat color differs among subspecies, ranging from rusty-reddish to brown-rusty. 

Each tiger has distinctive stripes that are unique for each individual, similar to fingerprints in humans. The stripes provide camouflage for the tiger while hunting. A tiger’s stripes are found on its tawny brown skin rather than its coat, hence, its uniqueness is preserved even if the coat is shaved. The stripes also differ in form and density between subspecies, and each tiger has over 100 stripes.

The size and weight of a tiger depend on its subspecies, and whether it is in captivity or the wild. Tigers in captivity are usually larger. Generally, adult male tigers can reach 10 feet and 600 pounds in weight. Females are smaller and measure 8.5 feet and 350 pounds in body length and weight respectively.

Tigers are robust but agile creatures. Their skeletons make up 20% of their weight with their backbone providing a central frame for their body. They have a broad head resting on a thick neck that has 7 vertebrae. They also have 7 lumbar vertebrae, 13 thoracic vertebrae, and 3 sacral vertebrae.

Also read: Tiger Communication: How Do Tigers Communicate With Each Other?

Tiger strong body

Every movement, from pouncing to crouching, to wagging their tails, involves muscle groups pulling on specific bones in their bodies. Due to their small clavicle, they can stretch their bodies further to grab prey.

To maintain balance when taking sharp turns, they use their thick tails which measure 1 meter in length. Their eyes have circular pupils and yellow irises, while their tongue is extremely rough due to excess papillae. It is so rough that they use it to remove bits of flesh from the carcass.

The tiger has incredibly powerful limbs. The hind legs of tigers are longer than their front legs, helping them jump as far as 20 feet. Each leg has razor-sharp retractable claws but the number of fingers differs. There are five fingers on the front leg and four fingers on the hind legs. 

Tiger Sensory Organs


Tigers have excellent eyesight, and their eyes are among the largest of all land mammals. They have binocular vision that allows them to focus on a single point, giving them efficient depth perception. They also have a tapetum lucidum behind their retina that reflects light and enhances their visual sensitivity, especially in low-light conditions. Tigers can see well in the dark and are also adept at tracking moving objects.


Tigers have highly sensitive ears that can rotate 180 degrees, allowing them to locate prey by sound. They have a wide range of audible frequencies, which enables them to detect the slightest of sounds, including the rustling of leaves or distant prey movements. Tigers can hear sounds that are up to 5 miles away.


Tigers have a keen sense of smell that is used for detecting prey and communicating with other tigers. They have an organ on the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s organ, which helps them detect pheromones and other scent-related information. Tigers can track prey by the scent left behind while also gauging the size and condition of other tigers through scent marking.

Tiger face


Tigers have a highly developed sense of touch that helps them to feel vibrations and changes in pressure. This sense is particularly important when they are chasing prey, enabling them to detect the proximity of their target without having to see or hear it.


The sense of taste for tigers is essential for distinguishing between different types of prey and determining the quality of the meat. The tiger’s taste buds are located on the papillae on its tongue, which is covered in tiny spines called filiform papillae that help to rasp the flesh off of bones before swallowing.

Female Tiger vs Male Tiger — Main Differences


Tigers exhibit sexual dimorphism, a phenomenon where the genders of a species differ in size. In tigers, males are larger than females. Adult male tigers can grow to up to 10.9 feet in length and weigh up to 575 pounds, while females are typically between 7-9 feet in length and weigh up to 350 pounds. Males are also more muscular and have broader foreheads and faces than females.

Physical Markers

Males have a “ruff,” a patch of longer fur around their neck, chest, and shoulders that is absent in females. Male tigers also have a wider head with a more prominent sagittal crest, the ridge on top of the skull to which their powerful jaw muscles are attached.

Male and female tigers cuddling

Reproductive System

Male tigers have two small testicles that are inside their body, while females have two ovaries and a uterus. Female tigers also go into heat several times a year, while males are capable of breeding throughout the year.


Male and female tigers exhibit different behaviors in the wild. Males are generally more solitary and will stake out a large territory for themselves, while females are usually accompanied by their cubs and form smaller territories. In addition, males have been observed to be more aggressive and territorial, especially when it comes to protecting their territory or mating rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Bones Does a Tiger Have?

Tigers have 432 bones. They have a flexible spine which gives them amazing speed, strength, and agility. They have short stubby fingers called dewclaws on each of their front paws. Dewclaws do not touch the ground when tigers walk but aid in grasping surfaces and holding prey.

How Many Toes Does a Tiger Have?

A tiger has 5 fingers on its front feet and four fingers on its hind feet. The fifth finger called a dewclaw assists in holding onto rough surfaces. There are retractable sickle-shaped claws on each finger sharp enough to maul a man. They are extended when hunting prey and retracted when walking.

What Type of Skin Does a Tiger Have?

Tigers have striped skins which are brown and covered by a lush orange coat. The stripes are unique to each individual and could be used to identify them. However, it is not the preferred method of identification because of the difficulty of keeping track of tigers in the wild.

Do Tiger Have Retractable Claws?

Like all big cats (except cheetahs), tigers have retractable claws which are covered by a sheath of skin. The claws are only extended when needed such as during hunts, fighting rivals, or ripping flesh off prey. When walking, the claws are retracted and the tiger’s soft pads muffle its steps.

Why Do Tigers Have Spots on Their Ears?

The white spots on the ears of tigers are believed to serve two main purposes.

Firstly, they act as false eyes, tricking potential predators into thinking the tiger is looking at them. Secondly, it can be used as a display of aggression. Tigers show their spots when threatened to warn the threat. It also makes them look bigger. The white spots are called ocellus.


  • Charles s
    Posted October 23, 2023 at 6:07 pm

    Very interesting, thanks for writing

    • Post Author
      Posted October 24, 2023 at 9:45 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Charles!


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