Why do tigers have stripes?

Evolutionary biologist and BBC Wildlife contributor Ben Garrod answers your wild question.

Tiger snarling in Ranthambore, India. © Aditya Singh/Getty

When it comes to predatory adaptations, you wouldn’t expect a coloration of bright orange with black stripes to be top of the list – in fact it might not be on the list at all.

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However, while we typically see tigers in zoos, conspicuous against the green vegetation in their enclosures, their main prey is ungulates, which cannot detect the range of colours that we primates can. To an animal with comparatively poor vision, the cat’s bold, contrasting colours are much harder to pick out in the long grass.

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This method of camouflage is an important predatory adaptation. Whereas some large felines rely on co-operative hunting (such as lions) or bursts of intense speed (such as cheetahs), tigers are semi-solitary and depend on their cryptic appearance to ambush prey.