Environment As one of the natural world’s most powerful and deadly-accurate apex predators, the Tiger’s senses are perfectly adapted to the daily functions of life in its jungle habitat. In particular, the big cat’s highly-evolved sense of sight is vital to its survival and dominance over smaller food prey. For anyone interested in Tiger watching, learning about the animal’s physiology and physical characteristics goes a long way to unlocking the secrets of its behaviours in the wild. As one of its most important senses, understanding more about the big cat’s eyesight can be very revealing. Binocular Vision Just like humans, they have binocular vision, which enables them impressive accuracy in their ability to judge distance – a huge advantage when hunting. Without this depth of perception, their ability to pounce and kill prey in one swift move would be compromised. In addition, the eyes are positioned at the front of the head and not the side, which, because they look straight ahead, also aids in the accurate perception of depth and dimension. Depth Not Detail While their eyesight is actually comparable to that of humans during daylight hours, the big cat does not have the ability to discern the same quality of detail as us. This is not really a disadvantage, however, as it has no bearing on their ability to hunt. On the Hunt As they hunt primarily in the low light of evening or under the cover of darkness, the Tiger’s night vision is excellent (around six times better than humans), giving them a distinct advantage over their prey. Unlike domestic cats, their pupils are rounded (not elliptical), and the lens and anterior chamber are quite large, enabling the maximum amount of light to enter the eye. Highly Receptive Retinas Their retinas are made up primarily of ‘rod receptors’, which are able to perceive even the smallest of movements in very low light. While they also comprise some colour receptors (called cone cells), it’s thought that these actually facilitate day vision and that, while some may see dull greens, reds and blues, many Tigers have monochrome vision. Making their vision even more accurate in low light, the eyes include a structure called the tapetum lucidum, which acts as a mirror to reflect light a second time and sends a message to the brain to form a lighter image of the subject within the eye. The eye also includes a wide band of horizontal nerves that serve to enhance the peripheral vision – allowing the big cat to see slightly beyond their standard range of vision to spot potential prey or danger. Protective Membrane The last notable characteristic is the extra protective ‘nictitating’ membrane, which, in addition to the upper and lower eyelids, keeps the eye moist and clean. For those with an interest in studying the behaviour of this magnificent big cat, dedicated Tiger watching tours into prime habitat in the jungles of India afford a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe them in the wild. Their exceptional eyesight is a major contributing factor to their absolute dominance and status as an apex predator, which begs the question: are we Tiger watching or is the Tiger watching us…? Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. Being passionate about her subject, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
The Incredible Senses of the Tiger – Eyesight
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