A tiger's gestation period is relatively short, and her babies -- called cubs -- are born small. Relatively helpless, they depend on her to feed and care for them. Eventually, the mother tiger teaches her cubs how to hunt, and as they grow in size, they also become independent enough to leave home and mature into fully grown adults.
Small and Dependent
A tiger's gestation period is only about 100 days or so. She gives birth to anywhere between two and seven cubs, and at that point, they don't typically weigh more than 2 to 3 lbs. When these tiny babies are born, they're blind for six to 12 days. Even after that point, when they finally open their eyes, it takes a few more weeks for their vision to fully develop, making them completely dependent on their mother's protection and care.
Growing up isn't easy for a tiger cub. Because they're completely dependent on their mothers, who generally can't kill enough prey for the whole family, only two or three cubs survive to adulthood. Cubs can't eat solid food until they're almost two months old, and until then, the mother has to eat extra so that she can continue nursing them. Once they're weaned, the only food they get is what she brings home.
Learning to Hunt
As the tiger cubs grow, they start to learn how to hunt. Like everything else in life, they get this from their mothers. They start hunting when they're eight to 10 months old, at which point a male tiger cub weighs more than 100 lbs. They continue spending all of their time with family until they're 17 to 24 months old -- it depends on how quickly they learn and become dominant animals. A male tiger doesn't stop growing until he's about five years old.
Once the tiger is fully grown, he's the biggest member of the cat family. Depending on the species, a fully-grown and independent tiger may weigh as little as a 165-lb. Sumatran tiger or as much as a 570-lb. Indian tiger. Adult tigers are solitary creatures and formidable hunters -- a far cry from the blind, helpless, 2-lb. cub that they once were.
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Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.