Friday, March 30, 2012

Coat Patterns

Check Out That Cool Coat!
Giraffes have very distinct coat patterns. Even though there is only one species of giraffes, each of the nine subspecies has different coat patterns based on where they live. The differences between each species’ coat patterns are determined not only by where they live, but also by what they eat.
            A giraffe’s coat pattern acts as a fingerprint in the fact that each one is unique. It distinguishes them from other giraffes in the herd. The differences in coat pattern help young giraffes determine who their mothers are in a large herd because no two giraffes have identical coat patterns.
            A giraffe’s basic coat pattern consists of dark blotches, which are usually brown, chestnut, black, or orange in color. Light hairs that are usually white or cream in color separate these blotches to give the giraffe a distinct coat. Their coat pattern is used as camouflage in their environment, which is why their coat pattern is dependent on where they live. As a giraffe gets older, the color of his or her coat usually darkens, but the pattern stays the same. This is especially true for male giraffes.  
Here is an example of three subspecies of giraffes that all live in Kenya.  They each display unique coat patterns even though they live in similar environments.

The reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) is distinguished by defined bright patches, which are usually orange or brown in color.  Sharp white or cream lines separate these patches.

The maasai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi) are the darkest subspecies of the giraffes.  Their coat is recognizable by its dark brown jagged edges with a cream or light brown color backgroud.

The Rothschild's giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi) is the most rare of the giraffe subspecies.  Its coat is similar to the maasai giraffe but it is much lighter in appearance.  It is known for the lack of dark color pattern below their knees

Fun fact of the week: Although this rarely occurs, some giraffes are born so dark or light in color that their spots are barely visible! 


  1. I was not aware of the fact that the environment and what giraffes eat determine their coat patterns. It is interesting to know that a giraffes coat acts like a fingerprint and no two are alike and that they can tell one apart of the other. Do you think that is the case for other mammals like zebras, cheetahs, leopards and other spotted animals?