Sunday, February 4, 2007

Apple #222: Tiger Sounds

I've been reading Life of Pi on my lunch hours over the past week or so. In case you don't know, it's about a young kid who gets shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a tiger.

I'm enjoying the interactions with all the animals -- and a surprising number of creatures appear on or near our hero's little boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But some other fairly incredible things have started happening, and I'm now regarding the narrator with increasing skepticism.

Partly because of this skepticism, I am starting to doubt some of the facts that are given about the animals that our hero encounters. The tiger that is shipwrecked along with Pi on the lifeboat is described, at one point, as making a sound which is not a roar or a growl or anything menacing. The sound the tiger makes is a friendly noise, almost indescribable, but known as prusten.

Well, says Skeptical Apple Lady I, it's time to find out if there is such a thing as prusten, and if tigers express friendliness to people.

  • Folks who study tigers do recognize chuffing as an expression of friendliness. Adult tigers will chuff in a greeting to other adult tigers, if they do not sense their territory or food is being threatened, or they will make the chuffing sound to their cubs. A tiger will also sometimes make this sound at the sight of people bringing food for it to eat.
  • The word prusten is German for "sneeze" or "snorting in laughter." I don't think that matches exactly with the sound the tiger makes, but I suppose it's the thing we naturally do that comes closest.
  • People can mimic this sound by exhaling air in a rush over the lips, like a forceful "f" sound, while at the same time rolling the tongue against the roof of the mouth. If you make this sound to a tiger in the zoo, the tiger might chuff back at you.
  • Tigers make lots of other sounds, too. They growl, snarl, roar, whoof, miaow, purr, and they also do something called pooking. This is a loud, clear, flat call, which some people think is the tiger's attempt to mimic a type of deer that is often the tiger's prey. They think the tiger makes this sound to try to fool the deer into thinking that one of its own is close by, when really, it's a tiger in disguise. Go, wily tigers!

More Tiger Sounds
Bengal tiger, sounding very hungry
Sumatran tiger, growling like it makes this sound easily as breathing
Sort of a cross between a growl and a snort
Tiger Territory's page of various sounds, including prusten
Zooschool's page of sounds. Be sure to check out the sound called "threaten."
Lots of links to sounds at Jungle Walk. You have to do a lot of clicking.

I really like tigers. Their coats are so incredibly beautiful, but I also like to watch them move. You get a glimpse of the strength and agility stored in their body, even when they're just strolling by. They seem to emanate their power with very little effort. I find them absolutely impressive.

Sumatran tiger, just relaxing at the Phoenix Zoo
(Photo from

So, I'll share a few more facts I learned about tigers.
  • On average, tigers are about 9 to 10 feet long and weigh in the neighborhood of 450 to 600 pounds.
  • Of all the types of cats -- wild and domesticated -- only the tiger and the jaguar willingly go in the water to cool off. They may even spend some time swimming around.

This Bengal tiger looks perfectly comfortable in the water.
(Photo from

  • A tiger's night vision is seven times better than ours, though they can only see black and white.
  • When a tiger opens its mouth wide and seems to grimace, it's not wincing but trying to smell something better. In what's called the flehman gesture, the tiger opens its mouth, wrinkles its nose, raises its chin and extends its tongue. This opens a particular organ called Jacobson's Organ which is on the roof of the tiger's mouth, and thus enables the tiger to take in and identify more of a particular scent. Male tigers do this especially when trying to determine if a female tiger is ready to mate.
  • Tigers eat:
    • wild boar
    • cattle
    • deer
    • antelope
    • guar
    • monkey
    • pangolin
    • porcupine
    • sloth bear
    • young elephants
    • tortoises
    • reptiles
    • birds
    • fish
    • rodents
    • grubs
    • and on occasion they'll eat vegetation, to help their digestion
  • When they hunt, they stalk their prey by hiding in the tall grasses (its stripes help camouflage the tiger immensely), and creeping closer to a particular animal. When it is close enough and the wind is in its favor, it rushes out of the grass and attacks.

You don't ever want to see this coming toward you.
(Photo from

  • The tiger usually first leaps at the animal's hindquarters. Once the animal is knocked down, it then administers its killing bite at the nape of the neck.
  • Tigers rarely eat people. The few times this has happened, it has been because their accustomed hunting grounds had been turned into ranches or farms. The tigers took to eating the livestock they found on their hunting grounds, and in the course of that hunting found an exquisitely defenseless animal nearby, a human.
  • Tigers sleep or nap, on average, 20 hours out of a 24 hour day.
  • Eight subspecies of tiger have been identified. Three of these subspecies are now extinct and one is just about ready to die out. So please, don't shoot any more tigers!

An Indo-Chinese tiger
(Photo from Maria Magdalena)

Save the Tiger Fund, Tiger Sounds
Jungle Walk, Tiger Sounds
Cyber Zoomobile, Tigers
Isle of Wight Zoo, Tigers, About Indian Tiger
Tiger Territory, Communication


  1. Hi! I also read that book. I will offer no comments that involve spoilers, which is very hard to resist.

    Which leaves me with nothing else to say. Except that this guy's stranded-at-sea story is quite remarkable (though not quite as remarkable as living in a boat with a tiger!)

    P.S. I'm sending you an email soon.

  2. I read that tigers actually can see color, but besides that all the information matches other articles I have read.


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