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11 Ferocious Facts About Tigers

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Here are a few things you might not know about the exotic (and endangered) animal.

1. No stripe is the same.

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The big cats use their coats as camouflage. Every tiger has a unique set of stripes that can be used to identify it, similar to human fingerprints. Some tigers have orange fur with black stripes; others are black with tan stripes, white with tan stripes, or all white (albino). 

2. Tigers are an endangered species.

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Humans have long hunted tigers for their fur and and other parts (more on that below). They are also rapidly losing their habitats, since people have co-opted most of their land for farming and logging. (The island of Sumatra, home of the Sumatran tiger, for example, has lost 50% of its forest cover.) In just over a century, 97% of the tiger population has perished, three subspecies have gone extinct, and the whole species is expected to be extinct in just a decade. 

3. There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild.

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There are thought to be 3,000 tigers in the wild and between 5,000 and 10,000 tigers in U.S. cages. An estimated 90 percent of them are kept in roadside zoos, backyard breeder facilities, circus wagons, and as pets in homes. 

4.  Tigers are the largest members of the cat family.

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Followed by the lion in second place, and the jaguar in third. The Siberian tiger, the largest subspecies, can weigh up to 675 pounds and is capable of killing animals twice its size.

5. Tigers are territorial.

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They live alone and scent-mark their territories—which are up to 10,000 square kilometers in size. A male tiger guards his territory from other males, but must offer access to females for potential mating. A male's territory will always be larger than a female's, and may overlap with the territories of one to seven females.

6. There were once nine sub-species of tigers.

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At one time, these subspecies included the Bengal, the Siberian, the Indochinese, the South Chinese, the Sumatran, the Malayan, the Caspian, the Javan, and the Bali. Of these, the Caspian, the Javan, and the Bali are extinct, the South Chinese is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered.

7. A tiger’s lifespan is usually 10-15 years.

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Tigers are typically nocturnal and solitary animals. At the beginning of their lives, they spend two and a half years with their mothers before venturing out to live the rest of their days alone. 

8. Many cultures consider the tiger to be a symbol of strength and courage.

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However, that comes with drawbacks, as hunting them is also considered a sign of braveryIn Asia, tigers are one of the top five animals that people pay huge amounts of money for the "privilege" of hunting. In addition, it is believed that at least 60 per cent of China’s billion-plus inhabitants use medicines with tiger-derived ingredients. The booming economies (and related personal incomes) in Southeast Asia have caused demand and prices for tiger-related products to soar; in general, the international trade in wildlife products is an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.

9. All tigers are carnivores, with manners.

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Male tigers usually hunt and feast alone. However, if they have a family, they will let the female tigress and her cubs eat first. Their typical diet consists mainly of pigs, deer, rhinos, and elephant calves, and they are capable of eating up to 21 kilograms of meat per day.

10. Tigers can have as many as seven cubs.

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Adult females generally produce a litter every two years. However, only about half of the litter survives, because the mother cannot abandon the group long enough to kill the prey necessary to sustain them all. The cubs only join their mother for the hunt after eight to ten months of careful instruction from mom.

11. Tigers rely heavily on their teeth for survival.

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Their jaws are made for "snapping necks, crunching through bone and sinew and grinding meat into mouthfuls soft enough to swallow." Their canine teeth are especially sharp, and are packed full of nerve endings that allow for hunting and attacking with precision. If a tiger were to lose its canines, it would no longer be able to kill and would likely starve to death. 

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
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Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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