Friday Cat Blogging


This tiger was owned by a large cat breeder and handler who provides tigers, lions, and some other beasts for the entertainment industry. Notice the white spots on the tiger’s ears. I spent a fair amount of time with this tiger, in its enclosure, photographing it as various other things were going on. As I was the stranger in the room, and since I kept moving, the tiger kept a close eye on me, but not with its actual eyes. I took about a hundred photographs of this animal, and in every single one there are two white spots … those spots on the ears … looking at me.

It is said that the purpose of the white spots on the tiger’s ears are to help the cubs follow the mom in the jungle. This tiger is a male, so we have a small problem with that hypothesis. I believe that the spots may be a way for a tiger to indicate that it knows where you (you being another tiger, most likely) are. It is a simple and honest signal of cognizance, a very important trait in a large territorial predator.


  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 5, 2008

    Even if the spots only served a purpose on females couldn’t they just as well still show on males? Sort of like nipples on human males?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    December 5, 2008

    Maybe. Maybe not. Dimorphism evolves all the time, nipples not withstanding.

  3. #3 BZ
    December 5, 2008

    Too cool.

  4. #4 6EQUJ5
    December 5, 2008

    My guess:

    If you were a tiger cub following behind Mom, how would you notice when she suddenly began listening intently?

    Before she could come to a full stop herself, her ears would perk up, something very easy for you to see.

    The silent message? Shhhhhh…….

  5. #5 ggab
    December 5, 2008

    Is it true that upon viewing a recent Cincinnati footbal game, the Bengal Tigers have expressed an interest in changing their name?
    May be a rumour, but I would understand if it were true.
    A cats gotta have some Pride.

  6. #6 lynn fellman
    December 5, 2008

    The radar-like function of cats’ ears have always intrigued me. They are fun to watch flick about tracking sounds while their eyes wander elsewhere. I’m curious. If evolution has piggy-backed another function on their ears, is there a well-known concept for that development?

  7. #7 Art
    December 5, 2008

    Given a situation where animals are forced by events, usually a vital resource like water, to collect at or near a location such spots would serve to obscure or confuse the ability of a potential prey animal to determine where the tiger is looking.

    Being able to determine where a predator is looking, and presumably focused on, would be an advantage. When the tiger is looking away a prey animal could slip in and get a drink in relative safety.

    The coloration confuses the issue for any animal seeking to determine where the tiger is looking. Confusion, frustration, and error in determining this leads to making yourself an easy meal when you think your getting away with something. The tiger gains a survival advantage by obscuring or confusing the apparent the locus of its attention.

    On the other foot this deception is sometimes used to thwart predators. Some animals have ‘eyes’ on the backs of ears. These make a predator think they are always looking and less likely to be easy targets. Some people in India wear masks on the back of their heads when in tiger territory and report this lowers the odds of a tiger attack.

    Security people often wear mirrored sunglasses for related reasons. It makes it difficult to determine what your looking at and makes it appear that your potentially looking at everything all the time. Not knowing if they are under surveillance people are less likely to try anything and they tend to hesitate when they act. The behaviors of hesitation and furtiveness are clear signs of someone wanting to do something, they are making themselves vulnerable, and gives you clues as to when they will act.

    All of which means you are more likely to be able to time their move and catch them. Crooks get caught. Tasty critters get eaten.