This is a great question with a complicated
answer. Let’s start by thinking about the color
of your hair. It is probably just one color or a
mix of different shades of the same color. The
color comes from a pigment called melanin. It’s
the same pigment that gives us our skin color.
The amount of this pigment determines how dark our
skin or hair are. Different colors, like red hair
color, are from a slightly different recipes.
The recipe for making melanin is in the genes
in every one of your cells, even though most of
your cells never use it. It has been a few
decades since I was in 6th grade, so some of my
hair has no melanin in it. My cells still have
the recipe, they just don’t make as much anymore.
Let’s get back to the leopard. All of its
cells have the recipes for making all of the
different colors in its coat. In order to make
spots, the processes for making the pigments have
to be “switched on.” The switches for genes don’t
look anything like light switches, but the idea is
the same. The tricky part is that the switches in
different cells have to be turned on in very
specific patterns to get the beautiful spots on a
leopard. I don’t think anyone has figured out
exactly how that is controlled. If you want to
study things like that, you may want to become a
geneticist or developmental biologist.
Why do spots help a leopard? Do they make it
hide better or make it stand out?
Thanks for asking,