Monday, February 17, 2014

Post Revamp: the Maltese Tiger

Tigers are among Earth's most fascinating animals.  Their size, majesty and charisma has made them enormously popular -- and enormously recognizable.  In a way, this is ironic, since tigers as reclusive as it comes.  In the wild, they are near-impossible to find, and even researchers can go years without seeing one.  There are two main reasons for this.  First of all, tigers are shy and solitary, spending little time even with members of their own kind.  And second of all, tigers are extremely rare, with under 4,000 left in the world.

Even rarer, some say, is the "Maltese Tiger."  This is an unusual sort of cryptid -- not a new species, but a variant of an existing one.  Maltese Tigers, supposedly, are discolored by a rare mutation.  Their fur is blue instead of orange, and their normally-black stripes are grey.  This explains the name "Maltese" -- many cats from Malta have blue-grey fur.

Before talking about the probability of this cryptid, we should discuss whether Maltese tigers are even possible.  In normal cats, this coloration pattern is created by a specific set of genetic alleles.  Were these alleles present in tigers, they would indeed produce a blue-colored animal.  But such a tiger would not have stripes, unlike the Maltese Tigers of cryptozoology.  A more complicated set of alleles could indeed produce a blue, striped animal -- but such an individual has never been observed.

A perhaps likelier theory is that "Maltese" tigers are not blue at all.  White tigers do exist, and can be produced by a lack of pheomelanin.  This mutation is not uncommon; several white individuals have been captured or bred over the years.  Tigers are mostly nocturnal, and in the moonlight a white animal could easily appear bluish.  The "Maltese" coloration may thus be a trick of the light.

Whether Maltese Tigers are blue or white, they cannot be common.  Only a handful of sightings have ever been reported -- mostly from China, but also from neighboring countries.  In this region, tigers are extremely rare, due to poaching and use in traditional medicine.  Do unusually-coloerd morphs appear on occasion?  Perhaps, but there certainly isn't a population -- and tigers are so infrequently seen that we may never know for sure.

Read more about the Maltese Tiger:
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