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Tiger (Panthera tigris) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

Carnivores

  • Obligate meat eaters
    • Plants do not significantly contribute to caloric intake
    • Largest carnivore species on land in regions where they occur (Seidensticker et al. 1999)
  • Prefer large ungulates
    • Prey upon the largest ungulates in all ecosystems in which they occur (Seidensticker 1997)
    • Ungulates form the bulk of dietary intake (Schaller 1967)
  • Opportunistic take (Schaller 1967)
    • Also consume primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even invertebrates
    • Tigers occasionally take elephant or rhinoceros calves (never adults)

Ungulate prey sources (Seidensticker et al. 1999)

  • Large bovids
    • Antelope, water buffalo, wild cattle
  • Large cervids
    • Deer
      • Make up nearly 75% by mass of a tiger's diet across most of its range (Sunquist et al. 1999)
  • Wild pigs

Regional prey items

  • Russia
    • Elk, wild pigs and red deer (Hornocker et al. 1997; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
  • Asia
    • Various species of deer(Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
  • Nepal
    • Deer and swine are primary prey in Chitwan National Park (Seidensticker and McDougal 1993)
    • Tigers kill larger prey more often than smaller prey (Seidensticker and McDougal 1993)
      • Average prey size: 97 kg (214 lb) for tigers (versus 28 kg (62 lb) for leopards)
  • India
    • Bengal tigers consumed wild pig and sambar at a higher rate and common langur at a lower rate than predicted by each species' local abundance (Biswas and Sankar 2002)

Hunting technique

    • Solitary, stalk-and-ambush hunters (Sunquist et al. 1999; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, 2009)
      • 3 typical capture elements (from Sunquist et al. 1999)
        • Concealment
        • Stalk
        • Sudden rush
      • Typical killing methods
        • Bite to the back of the neck, small prey (Seidensticker and McDougal 1993; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
          • Tiger inserts canine tooth between neck vertebrae, forcing them apart and breaking the spinal cord (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)
            • Typically used on prey weighing less than half as much as the tiger
            • Doesn't work if prey is so large than tiger's canines cannot reach the vertebrae
        • Strangulation with a throat bite, large prey (Seidensticker and McDougal 1993; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
          • Tiger bites throat of prey and crushes the trachea, cutting off the animal's air supply
          • More efficient than bite to back of neck, since large prey tend to have thick manes, large antlers/horns, and well-muscled necks
          • Tends to be the preferred method of young tigers still learning how to hunt
    • Success rate
      • Excellent hunters, though not every attempt is successful
        • May make many unsuccessful attempts for each successful kill
          • 1 successful kill in 12 attempts by Bengal tigers in ones study at Kanha Park (Schaller 1967)
          • Kill rate <30%, one study of Amur tigers (Matjushkin et al. 1977)

Feeding

Feeding behavior (from Sunquist and Sunquist 2002 unless otherwise noted)

  • Move kill before feeding, often
    • Tigers drag a carcass into cover, preferably near water, before beginning to eat
      • A tiger can move a carcass several times heavier than itself for large distances
      • One individual in Myanmar was observed moving a 770-kg (1,700-lb) gaur bull
  • Molar teeth (carnassials) slice off meat
    • Also used to open up the carcass
  • Tongue rasps muscle from bones
    • Sharp, hard papillae on the tongue help remove the meat
  • Often rest after a meal
    • Remain close to the carcass until most edible parts consumed
      • May leave a carcass temporarily, often covering it with leaves, dirt, grass, and/or rocks
    • Typically do not eat stomach contents, skin, bones
  • Tigers may socialize at kills
    • More than on other occasions (Schaller 1967)

Quantity consumed

  • Consume large amounts in a single meal (from Sunquist & Sunquist 2002 unless otherwise noted)
    • Adults reported to consume 18-27 kg (40-60 lb) meat in one night
      • 35 kg (77 lb) reported for one large male
    • The maximum consumption
      • May eat c. 1/5 of its body weight in 24 hours
        • Up to 45 kg for a large male
    • A female tigers
      • Requires on average about 5-6 kg (11-13 lb) meat/day (Sunquist 1981)
        • c. 3,000 kg (6,600 lb) of meat per year (Sunquist et al. 1999)
      • When with cubs she requires about 50% more food (Sunquist et al. 1999)

Competition for food

  • Competition with other tigers
    • A tiger has priority to consume its own food supply, even in the presence of a larger tiger (Mazák 1981)
  • Competition with other large carnivores
    • A study in the Chitwan Valley, Nepal, estimated that tigers remove approximately 15% of all available prey from their habitats; other local predators, such as leopards (Panthera pardus) and dholes (Cuon alpinus), take an additional 5% (Karanth et al. 2004)
    • A study on the Laos-Vietnam border found that 6 cat species, dhole, 2 bear species, and 11 small carnivores competed with tigers for prey (Johnson, Vongkhamheng et al. 2006)
  • Competition with humans
    • Humans compete with tigers for wild meat, especially deer and pigs (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
    • A study on the Laos-Vietnam border showed no significant impact of tigers on villagers' livestock (Johnson, Vongkhamheng et al. 2006)
      • Only 12% of villages experienced livestock losses from tiger attacks
        • Losses represented a small fraction of the total herd
      • Livestock losses to tigers can be reduced by growing forage and keeping livestock near villages instead of widely dispersed
    • In a study in central India, domestic livestock made up 12.3% of Bengal tigers' diet, according to scat analysis (Biswas and Sankar 2002)

Tiger Diet

Malayan tiger eating

A Malayan tiger feeding at the Zoo.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Johnson, Vongkhamheng et al. (2006)
Schaller (1967)
Matjushkin et al. (1977)
Seidensticker and McDougal (1993)
Seidensticker et al. (1999)
Sunquist (1981)
Sunquist et al. (1999)
Sunquist and Sunquist (2002)

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