One of the many wonderful experiences that visitors to India can enjoy is watching that most magnificent of animals, the Tiger. Travel through the vibrant grasslands or lush forests of the country’s wildlife reserves, and a Tiger sighting may be just around the next turn. Guides and visitors alike use their senses to detect animals in the wild – and the same is true of this beautiful big cat, whose highly developed senses makes them one of the most effective predators in the world. Here are some of the ways in which their adaptations allow them to thrive in their environment.
A vital adaptation for all big hunting cats is excellent vision. For the Tiger, travel at night or through dark, dense areas of forest is an important part of the animals’ hunting activity, and their eyesight is well suited to this. Like humans, they have binocular vision, meaning both eyes are used together to provide a wider field of view and good depth perception; their eyes are also large, allowing large pupils so that the eye receives more light even in low-lit conditions. Finally, their eyes contain a tapetum lucidum, a mirror-like layer behind the retina that reflects light inside the eye, enhancing night vision and making the eyes appear to glow when light is shone on them.
As well as finely adapted eyesight, these animals need to be able to hear well. Their large external ears, or pinnae, are excellently adapted tools, each of which can be moved independently, allowing it to pinpoint sounds or listen to several sounds at once. Their sensitive hearing allows them to pick up high-frequency sounds made by rodents, allowing them to hunt extremely effectively.
Smell and Taste
For an individual Tiger, travel around the area of its habitat may be for many reasons: hunting, seeking a mate, establishing a range, or avoiding threats. Its enhanced sense of smell can help with all of these. The senses of smell and taste are connected in many species, but the Tiger has a specially developed sensory organ on the roof of its mouth that lets it ‘taste’ the air and build up a better awareness of its surroundings than it could by using its nose or mouth alone.
A final tool in this big cat’s arsenal of sensory hunting aids is its sense of touch, especially in one of nature’s most elegant sensory organs – the whiskers, or vibrissae. These long, deeply set hairs are most notably grouped above the lips, and with their hundreds of nerves form a super-sensitive grid that allows detection of objects or motion – down to the smallest movement of the air. Those who have seen a Tiger travel at night will have noticed its acute awareness of its surroundings – this is why.