Tigers are one of the most adaptable species of big cats. They live in a wide variety of climates that go from tropical India to the subfreezing zones of the Russian taiga. Those living in warm climates don’t really have to worry about cold winters, but what about the tigers living in Siberia or the northern parts of China? Do they hibernate, or do they migrate in winter?
Do Tigers Hibernate?
Tigers are territorial animals that do not hibernate in winter. They remain active throughout the year, moving across their territory in search of food or mates. Tigers living in cold climate areas are well-adapted to survive the frigid weather. Not only do they have thick coats, but they also have a protective layer of fat that keeps them warm.
Technically, tigers don’t migrate either. However, they need large areas of habitat to find sufficient prey and survive. Depending on where it lives, a single tiger can control territory as large as 385 square miles.
Tigers rarely leave their territories. However, in periods when food is scarce or if they can’t find a suitable mate, tigers are known to move along so-called tiger corridors in search of prey or mates. Their migration patterns often match the migration patterns of their prey.
However, not all tigers live in areas where the prey migrates. Siberian tigers, for instance, inhabit the Siberian taiga and usually hunt wild boars, musk deer, elk, and even lynxes or bears. These herbivores don’t migrate; thus, the tiger doesn’t migrate either except to search for a partner during the mating season.
What Do Tigers Do In The Winter?
Because they live in such different territories, not all tigers have to worry about the harsh winter weather. However, tigers living in tropical or subtropical areas have to face seasonal challenges during the dry and monsoon periods.
With this in mind, let’s see how the two largest species of tigers in the world adapt to the different habitats they live in.
The largest tiger species in the world, Siberian tigers live mainly in the Russian taiga, although a small population ranges across the border into China and North Korea.
Similar to their ancestors, the saber-tooth tigers, Siberian tigers are adapted to live in the cold climate and don’t suffer the hostile weather. While these tigers don’t hibernate, they generally sleep for up to 20 hours a day in dens positioned in secluded areas, such as caves. By comparison, Bengal tigers don’t necessarily have a specific spot for sleeping.
Like all tigers, Siberian tigers are nocturnal and patrol their territories in search of prey. Their thick coats and layers of fat on their flanks and bellies protect them from the cold.
At the same time, these tigers have larger paws compared to other tiger species. These help them move easily in deep snow while also improving traction.
The top of a Siberian tiger’s coat maintains the same orange and black pattern all tigers are famous for. However, their bellies are white to blend with the environment. These white bellies make it easier for the tiger to camouflage itself when running and move unspotted.
Siberian tigers hunt and eat wild boars, musk deer, elks, and even smaller animals like hares or foxes. These animals don’t migrate, so Siberian tigers don’t migrate either. However, the small number of tigers and vast expanse of the Siberian taiga enables them to claim and control vast territories.
While most tigers have territories no larger than 400 square miles, some Siberian tigers can control areas up to 600 square miles. As they are patrolling the territory in search of food or mates, it could seem like the tigers migrate. In reality, though, they spend their lives in the same area.
Siberian tigers are a nearly extinct species, with fewer than 600 individuals in the wild. Hence, the vast territories each tiger controls and the need to move hundreds of miles to find a mate.
The second-largest tigers in the world, Bengal tigers, live in the lush tropical forests of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
Winters are mild in these regions, but the summers can be very dry. The monsoon season also raises new challenges for the big cats as the excessive rainfall leads to floods.
Like Siberian tigers, Bengal tigers are adapted to live in their habitat. Their striped coat features specific orange and black colors. Although their coat seems like a bright spot of color against the green background to the human eye, Bengal tigers feed on ungulates that don’t have the developed eyesight humans and primates have. Thus, their pattern enables them to hide in the lush vegetation during a hunt.
Like all mammals, Bengal tigers need food and water to survive. Their preferred prey are the sambars, chital, and gaurs, although they occasionally feed on other animals too.
Sambars, chital, and gaurs are nomadic species and migrate from higher altitudes in summer to lower altitudes in winter, in areas rich in vegetation and water. Their migration patterns are influenced by floods and droughts. Bengal tigers often migrate with their prey, although they generally only do so along established corridors. For instance, Bengal tigers in India are known to migrate to Bangladesh and then return to their original territory with the herd.
In addition to migrating for food, Bengal tigers also move from one territory to another for mating.
When thinking about tigers and how they survive in winter, many people think of white tigers. They are often associated with the Siberian taiga, and some even believe that all Siberian tigers are white. Some people even call them snow tigers. However, this is far from the truth.
While some Siberian tigers have white fur with black stripes, their coloration is the result of a genetic mutation called leucism.
This mutation is not exclusive to Siberian tigers. Bengal tigers and all other extant tiger species, as a matter of fact, can be white if they carry the double recessive gene responsible for the white color. And while a white tiger in a vast frosted land could seem like the perfect camouflage, it isn’t.
White tigers not only suffer from a host of health problems, but their white color can actually prevent them from camouflaging during the summer months. Without their primary hunting weapon, white tigers are more likely to become starved to death.
Where Do Tigers Migrate?
While the Siberian and Bengal tigers are the two largest big cat species, there are a total of six extant tiger species in the world. None migrate in the true sense of the word, but some move along tiger corridors following the migration patterns of their preferred prey.
All tigers in the wild live in Asia. Some believe that tigers also live in Africa and Australia. However, tigers migrated to Eurasia from Africa about two million years ago and never returned to the African continent. Tasmanian tigers who lived in Australia and Tasmania are not only extinct, but they weren’t big cats to begin with.
The table below highlights the habitat and migration behavior of all extant tiger species:
|Russia, China, North Korea
|Do not migrate
|India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan
|Move between territories along tiger corridors, generally following the migration patterns of their preferred prey
|Myanmar, Thailand, Laos
|Do not migrate
|South China tiger
|Do not migrate
|Do not migrate
|Do not migrate
As you can notice, the only tigers that migrate from one territory to another are the Bengal tigers. They move along tiger corridors, which are stretches of land that link various tiger habitats, including rainforests, wetlands, grasslands, and mangroves.
The reduction of habitat and the disruption of these corridors could interfere with the tigers’ migration patterns. This means that they may not be able to follow the herds of herbivores during their migration, which could lead to starvation.
All other tiger species do not migrate. However, due to the reduction of their natural habitat, they could sometimes move from one territory to another.
Tiger populations are found throughout the Asian continent. Most of them live in tropical and subtropical climates, except for the Siberian tigers, who inhabit the Russian taiga and cold climate regions in China and North Korea. No matter where they live, tigers do not hibernate. They do not migrate either, except for the Bengal tigers, who move between territories.
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