Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Tiger (Panthera tigris) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship & Reproduction

Mating

  • Repeated copulation over several days
    • 49-113 copulations over a period of 6.5 days, in one long-term  study of Amur tigers in managed care (Liu 2003)
      • Each copulation lasting c. 13 minutes; some as short as 10 seconds
    • Prolonged courtship association may occur
      • Pairs observed together up to 1 month (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
  • Mating behavior
    • Signs of female receptivity
      • Display constant vocalizing, pacing, rubbing, and rolling (from Sunquist 1981)
        • One female known to roar 69 times in 15 minutes
      • Female may display aggression toward the male (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
    • Copulation
      • Male seizes nape of female's neck and mounts from behind (Mazák 1981)
      • Both male and female vocalize during mating (Mazák 1981; Sunquist 1981)
        • Partners moan, groan, grunt, miaow, growl, and hiss (Mazák 1981)
    • In wild, male leaves after mating is completed and returns next time female is receptive (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)

Breeding season

  • Varies with latitude
  • Tropical regions (from Mazák 1981; Sunquist 1981)
    • Polyestrous (mate year-round)
    • Peak breeding activity November-April
  • Amur tigers
    • Appear to be seasonal breeders (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
    • Peak breeding activity April-June (Tilson et al. 1994)

Estrus cycle

  • Quite variable
    • Come into heat every 25 days on average (Schaller 1967; Seal 1987; Sunquist 1981)
    • Can range from 3-9 weeks (Schaller 1967; Seal 1987; Sunquist 1981)
  • Reproductive receptivity
    • Receptive for about 5 days on average (Schaller 1967; Seal 1987; Sunquist 1981)
  • Copulation induces ovulation
    • As in all felids

Gestation & Birth

Gestation

  • Average length of gestation
    • c. 103-106 days (Mazák 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
      • Range in different reports, from 97-110 days (Schaller 1967)

Interval between births

  • c. 2 years (Mazák 1981)
    • Female resumes cycling after previous litter has dispersed
    • If cubs die, female may have more than 1 litter per year

Birth

  • Location of birth
    • Occurs in tall grass, brush, rock piles, or caves (from Mazák 1981)
      • Mother may form a covered nest
  • Litter size (from Mazák 1981; Sunquist and Sunquist 2009)
    • 2-3 on average
      • It is uncommon to see a female with more than 3 young (Sunquist 1981)
    • Range of 1-7
  • Infant characteristics (from Mazák 1981)
    • Birth weight
      • c. 780-1600 g (1.7-3.5 lb)
    • Appearance
      • Eyes and ears closed
        • Eyes open at 6-14 days
        • Ears open at 9-11 days
      • Thick, woolly fur
        • Adult markings though of a lighter color
  • Newborn mortality
    • c. 36% (Mazák 1981)

Life Stages

Infant (< 1 year old)

  • Development (from Mazák 1981)
    • Milk teeth begin erupting at 2-3 weeks
    • Solid food taken by c. 2 months
      • Begin to follow mother on hunting trips at this time
    • Age at weaning: 3-6 months
    • Take part in hunting c. 5-6 months of age
    • Aquire permanent teeth by 12-14 months

Subadult (from Sunquist and Sunquist 2002 unless otherwise noted)

  • Development
    • Independent of mother c. 17-24 months
      • By 15 months, males often leave their mother for several days at a time
    • Gain full adult coloration by 2-3 years (Mazák 1981)
  • Learning to hunt (from Sunquist and Sunquist 2002)
    • Young tigers learn to kill by imitation and practice
      • Female tigers observed throwing a buffalo off its feet, stepping back and letting their cubs try to make the kill (Schaller 1967)
      • At 12 months, cubs are inexperienced and do not go for a killing throat bite
    • Male cubs become efficient at killing at an earlier age than females

Adult

  • Sexual maturity (from Mazák 1981)
    • Females: 3-4 years in wild
    • Males: 4-5 years in wild
  • Sex ratio
    • Females outnumber males (Schaller 1967; Sunquist 1981)
      • 2:1-5:1 ratio of females:males, varies by study populations
    • Unequal sex ratio not seen in young tigers - may result from higher mortality in juvenile males (Schaller 1967; Sunquist 1981)
      • Young males more likely to get into serious fights or be killed

Longevity

In managed care

  • 20 to 26 years (Mazák 1981)

In the wild

  • Similar to life expectancy in managed care (Mazák 1981)

Mortality

Cub mortality

  • High in first 2 years of life (from Sunquist 1981 unless otherwise noted)
    • Up to 50% in wild
      • Death due to disease, starvation, attack by predators, and attack by male tigers (Schaller 1967)
    • Juvenile males have higher mortality rate than females (Schaller 1967)
      • Likely due to independence at earlier age (Schaller 1967)

Adult mortality (from Schaller 1967)

  • Humans most significant threat
  • Other causes of mortality
    • Injuries (during hunting injuries) and infections
      • Wounds from porcupine quills can lead to death
    • Disease
      • Not a major cause of death

Tiger Cubs

Malayan tiger cubs

Malayan tiger cubs.

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

 

a Malayan tiger and cub

Malayan tiger mother and cub.

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

Page Citations

Mazák (1981)
Schaller (1967)
Seal (1987)
Sunquist (1981)
Sunquist and Sunquist (2002, 2009)
Tilson et al. (1994)

SDZG Library Links