|Why do leopards have spots?
|Question Date: 2004-12-09|
Spots, stripes, and other markings help to break
up the outline of objects. That's why hunters and
soldiers wear camouflage and why the military uses
camouflage patterns on vehicles. Most of the time,
leopards are in areas where there are many patches
of light and shadow. If they were one solid
color, they'd really stand out. By breaking up
their pattern, they are less
There's a great site on this
Check out this great black and white shot of a leopard
at night. You can see how patches of light and
dark hide its
do you think house-cats can be so many different
colors? Why would lions be pretty much solid
The coloration on leopards and many other animals
has evolved because it helps them survive
better. In the case of leopards, the alternating
dark and light blends into the shadows and
sunlight patches in the grasslands or forest where
they live and makes it easier for them to sneak up
on the the animals they hunt.
The leopard with the
type of spots that makes them blend in the best,
will probably catch more food and live long enough
to pass that type of spots on to their young Of
course, being very fast runners also helps. Check
out this website to see more kinds of cats with
Leopards probably have spots because the spots
help camouflage them in the foliage of their
habitats. (I say "probably," because humans didn't
actually observe leopards getting their spots, so
all we can do is come up with theories about why
they have them.) Here's how it probably happened:
The leopard's ancestors were cats with some other
pattern. Some leopard got a mutation (a "mistake"
in its genes, which are the chemicals in all cells
that are the blueprints for making up our bodies).
This mutation happened,by complete accident, to
cause spots to develop on the leopard's fur. The
spotted leopard could hide in the bushes better,
so it had an advantage over the other leopards.
When it reproduced, its kittens also had spots,
since mutations are passed down from parents to
offspring, so they also had an advantage over the
others. Eventually, spotted leopards ended up
making more offspring, so the leopard population
gradually changed from cats with no spots to cats
with spots. That's how evolution works, and it all
starts with random mutations that happen to be
Spots and stripes are both a type of camouflage
called disruptive coloration. The spots and
stripes break up what would otherwise be a solid
color, making the animal look less like a large
target and help it blend into the background.
Spots are especially useful for hiding in long
Another way that spots and stripes
work as camouflage is by confusing the
If a predator spots a zebra, say, and recognizes
it as prey, chances are the predator will fixate
on the stripes as it stalks the zebra.
the zebra senses the predator and runs away, the
white and black stripes blur into a gray
background and the predator immediately looses its
target. Predators are usually very good at sensing
movement, but the initial split second of
confusion may be enough time to allow the zebra to
escape. If you ever get a chance to go snorkeling
or diving in tropical waters, you'll notice that
most of the colorful butterfly fish on coral reefs
have disruptive camouflage (either spots or
stripes or both).
Lastly, a stripe covering
the eye and lots of dark spots on the body help
hide the eyes of prey, so the predator may become
confused about which end is the head. Why would
this be a good thing to hide from the predator?
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