A wide-ranging study of big cat skulls, led by Oxford University scientists, has shown that tigers have bigger brains, relative to their body size, than lions, leopards or jaguars.
The team investigated the relationship between the skull size – the longest length between the front and back parts of the skull – of a large sample of tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars and the volume inside the cats’ respective craniums. The researchers report their findings in this month’s Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.
'What we had not expected is that the tiger has clearly much bigger relative brain size than do the other three species, which all have similar relative brain sizes,’ said Dr Nobby Yamaguchi of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), an author of the report with WildCRU Director Professor David Macdonald.
‘When we compare the two biggest species, on average the lion has a bigger skull than the tiger based on the greatest length of the skull. However, the tiger has bigger cranial volume than the lion. It is truly amazing that tiny female Balinese tiger skulls have cranial volumes as large as those of huge male southern African lion skulls.’
It has sometimes been assumed that social species, such as lions, should have larger brains than solitary species, such as tigers, because of the need to handle a more complex social life within groups or prides. However, despite a few studies suggesting a relationship between big brains and sociality in mammals, evidence for the link is far from clear.
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