Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why the leopard got its spots

Date:
October 20, 2010
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
Why do leopards have rosette-shaped markings but tigers have stripes? Rudyard Kipling suggested that it was because the leopard moved to an environment "full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows," but is there any truth in this just-so story?

Patterns like the leopards rosettes evolve in cats which use forest habitats.
Credit: iStockphoto/Neal McClimon

Why do leopards have rosette shaped markings but tigers have stripes? Rudyard Kipling suggested that it was because the leopard moved to an environment "full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows" but is there any truth in this just-so story?

Related Articles


Researchers at the University of Bristol investigated the flank markings of 35 species of wild cats to understand what drives the evolution of such beautiful and intriguing variation. They captured detailed differences in the visual appearance of the cats by linking them to a mathematical model of pattern development.

They found that cats living in dense habitats, in the trees, and active at low light levels, are the most likely to be patterned, especially with particularly irregular or complex patterns. This suggests that detailed aspects of patterning evolve for camouflage. Analysis of the evolutionary history of the patterns shows they can evolve and disappear relatively quickly.

The research also explains why, for example, black leopards are common but black cheetahs unknown. Unlike cheetahs, leopards live in a wide range of habitats and have varied behavioural patterns. Having several environmental niches that different individuals of the species can exploit allows atypical colours and patterns to become stable within a population.

Although a clear link between environment and patterning was established, the study also highlighted some anomalies. For example, cheetahs have evolved or retained spotted patterns despite a strong preference for open habitats, while a number of cats, such as the bay cat and the flat-headed cat, have plain coats despite a preference for closed environments. Why this should be remains unclear.

The study also highlighted just how few species of cats have vertical stripes. Of the 35 species examined, only tigers always had vertically elongated patterns and these patterns were not associated with a grassland habitat, as might be expected. However, tigers seem to be very well camouflaged so this raises the question why vertical stripes are not more common in cats and other mammals.

Will Allen of Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology, who led the research, said: "The method we have developed offers insights into cat patterning at many levels of explanation and we are now applying it to other groups of animals."

The research is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. William L. Allen, Innes C. Cuthill, Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel and Roland Baddeley. Why the leopard got its spots: relating pattern development to ecology in felids. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2010; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1734

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Why the leopard got its spots." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019212914.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2010, October 20). Why the leopard got its spots. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019212914.htm
University of Bristol. "Why the leopard got its spots." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019212914.htm (accessed March 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, March 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

Botswana Talks to End Illegal Wildlife Trade

AFP (Mar. 25, 2015) Experts are gathering in Botswana to try to end the illegal wildlife trade that is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Elephants Help Keep 18-Wheeler From Toppling Over

Newsy (Mar. 25, 2015) The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff&apos;s Office discovered two elephants keeping a tractor-trailer that had gotten stuck in some mud upright on a highway. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Baby 'pet' Orangutan Rescued from Chicken Cage Takes First Steps

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Mar. 25, 2015) Buti, a baby orangutan who was left malnourished in a chicken cage before his rescue, takes his first steps after months of painful physical therapy. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins