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Why The Leopard Got Its Spots

Leopards are famous for having a spotted coat. What's cool is that there is science involved with their coat markings and patterns.

A profile of a leopard hiding in the grass

Photo: Steve Garvie (flickr)

A leopard's markings and patterns are used for camouflage.

University of Bristol researchers have looked at the flank markings of 35 species of wild cats. They wanted to understand why there was such a variation in fur patterns. The researchers used mathematical models to link the cat’s patterns together.

Discovery And Results

Researchers found that cats living in habitats with trees and low light levels were more likely to be patterned. In fact, they were more likely to have different or unusual patterns. The discovery suggests that the cat’s coats evolved for camouflage. The researchers also noted that the patterns can change and disappear rather quickly.

The research also explains why black cheetahs are unknown while black leopards are common. Leopards have lived in a wide variety of habitats forcing them to evolve their pattern. This change in habitats allows of unusual colors and patterns to become typical in the population.

Abnomalities

This study revealed some unusual occurrences in pattern. Cheetahs have their famous spotted pattern yet they live in open habitats. Similarly, bay cats and flat-headed cats have plain coats but prefer to live in closed environments. The researchers believe this information could be used for future studies.

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Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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