Are Tigers Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

tiger laying atop a rock
iStock.com/Cheryl Ramalho

Written by Janet F. Murray

Published: October 13, 2022

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Although many people view tigers as diurnal creatures based on their size and ferocious reputation, tigers are nocturnal. With this knowledge about tiger behavior, we can better understand these incredible animals and perhaps help protect them from danger in the future. Keep reading to learn more about the tiger’s sleep behavior.

Tiger Species

Siberian tiger with its tongue out

Tigers have highly textured tongues for rasping meat off bones.

There are nine subspecies of tigers, each with its distinct characteristics and geographical range. While three of these subspecies are now extinct, the remaining six include the Bengal, Indo-Chinese, South China, Amur, Sumatran, and Malayan tigers.

The Bengal tiger inhabits portions of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. In contrast, the Indo-Chinese tiger is primarily native to Vietnam and Cambodia. The South China tiger once ranged throughout much of China but is now considered entirely extinct in the wild. Only 47 are left, living in Chinese zoos. 

The other three remaining subspecies – Amur, Sumatran, and Malayan – are all critically endangered due to habitat loss and poaching activities. Thankfully, efforts have been made to protect these magnificent animals and hopefully ensure a sustainable future for all subspecies of tigers.

General Behavior

Tigers are well known for their fierce and powerful temperaments. They are also highly territorial animals, with individual tigers typically claiming a large area to call their own. Despite being solitary, tigers occasionally contact each other, usually for mating purposes or when sharing a valuable food source.

In addition to these limited interactions, tigers communicate with each other through various visual signals. Certain of these signals include swatting the ground or urinating to mark their territory. Also, they rub their scent glands along prominent landmarks to leave evidence of their presence and domain. Other communication methods include vocalizations such as snarling and roaring.

Amount of Time Tigers Spend Asleep

Given their natural affinity for the night and tendency to avoid humans, it is not surprising that tigers typically hunt at night.

The amount of time that tigers spend asleep in 24 hours is typically 65.8% of the entire cycle. This percentage works out to approximately 15.8 hours spent resting or sleeping each day. With the remaining hours, tigers engage in other activities like hunting, eating, and prowling their boundaries.

This amount of sleep may seem like a long time compared to other animals with much shorter sleeping schedules due to their more active lifestyles. However, this extended rest period is necessary for tigers to remain healthy and strong. Moreover, being predominantly nocturnal, these magnificent creatures sleep mainly during the day. After all, these big cats spend a significant amount of time on the move at night searching for prey, which requires plenty of energy and stamina.

The Reasons Tigers Prefer Nightime Activity

Most tigers prefer to spend the night hunting and sleeping during the day. Many elements seem to work together to influence the preference for nighttime activity. While some may not necessarily be innate, it is undoubtedly a practical adaption.

Human Presence

Given their natural affinity for the night and tendency to avoid humans, it is not surprising that tigers typically hunt at night. During the day, these fantastic creatures tend to rest or groom themselves, only getting up when necessary.

This adaption helps prevent encounters with people and ensures they can thrive in habitats where human presence is a constant reality. Through extensive research, we know that tigers generally hunt and travel almost exclusively under cover of darkness.

This behavior suggests they make an effort to avoid people whenever possible. Ultimately, this speaks volumes about these beautiful animals’ incredible resilience and adaptability. It also indicates their sense of preservation, helping the few remaining tigers more time on earth.

Prey

The nocturnal behavior of tigers also links to their prey. Studies show that most tigers hunt and eat animals naturally adapted to nocturnal activity, such as wild boar, deer, elk, water buffalo, and wild cattle.

Additionally, tigers sometimes target other large, predominantly nocturnal or crepuscular animals. Examples of such animals include leopards, pythons, crocodiles, Asiatic bears, brown bears, and sloth bears.

Furthermore, when tigers live close to humans or livestock in rural areas and villages, they often raid farms for cows, goats, horses, and pigs. Consequently, it is clear that the food preferences of tigers help shape their nocturnal habits in various ways.

Coloring

Coloring is an essential characteristic of tigers. Their specific colors serve the vital function of camouflaging them when stalking and ambushing their prey. Most tigers are recognizable for their striking orange coloring with black stripes. These exquisite coat markings act as a disguise, ensuring they can seamlessly blend into dense underbrush and trees as they sneak toward their unsuspecting meal.

In addition, these natural markings also help provide camouflage at night, when most tigers hunt. Thanks to their coloration, tigers can stalk their prey up to 30 or 35 feet away. At the right time, they burst from their cover, racing toward their target and attacking in one swift movement.

Territorial Patrolling

Apex predator: Tiger

Tigers use their stalking skills, speed, and quick movements to take down their prey.

One of the tiger’s most intriguing traits is wandering around its territory at night, patrolling for signs of other tigers or potential threats. A female tiger’s territory can range from 75 to 385 square miles, while males generally have up to 15 times bigger domains.

These large roaming areas mean they cover significant distances each night. While on the prowl, tigers check out the boundaries of their home range and search for any potential rivals or dangers. This activity is critical for maintaining a strong and healthy tiger population, ensuring that each individual has ample room to thrive within their terrain.

Where Tigers Sleep

Regarding the sleeping places of tigers, there is no one specific answer. Tigers are adaptable animals and sleep in different environments on various surfaces. These spaces include shady areas amongst thickets, rocks, caves, tall grasses, dense trees, shallow water bodies, and even muddy or sandy game roads.

Tigers love to sleep in cool places that provide them with good cover. While there may be regional differences in their specific sleeping spots and preferences, they must rest comfortably. Tigers protect themselves from threats like other predators or human activity by taking advantage of these natural habitats.

The Eyesight of the Nocturnal Tiger

Tigers have some of the most potent and well-developed senses among all animals. Their eyesight, in particular, is remarkable due to several unique adaptations that give them an edge over their prey and competitors. For example, tigers have forward-facing eyes instead of eyes on either side of their head. This positioning provides them with binocular vision as each eye’s vision field overlaps.

Binocular vision gives tigers heightened visual acuity and depth perception. They can more accurately assess distances and maneuver within their complex environment with exceptional eyesight. Additionally, because tigers rely on sight to hunt at night, they have a more significant number of eye rods (responsible for detecting shapes) than cones. The cones (responsible for color vision) in their eyes enable them to pick up on movement even in the darkness, where color vision may be limited.

Mirror Lenses

Tigers have an addition to the superior nighttime vision called the tapetum lucidum. It is at the back of a tiger’s eye behind the retina. This structure is a mirror that reflects light through the retina multiple times instead of allowing it to escape the eye. The tapetum lucidum maximizes the volume of light that photoreceptors can absorb in the retinal tissue.

These adaptations make tiger eyesight highly attuned to seeing and capturing prey even in dim or extreme light conditions such as thick jungles or icy landscapes. As a result, tigers have one of the best night vision around.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

Up Next – More About Tigers


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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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