MadSci Network: Zoology
Query:

Re: patterns animal marking on skin, hide

Date: Sat Feb 17 04:18:11 2007
Posted By: dave armstrong, Faculty, Biology, Cricklade college
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1168028611.Zo
Message:

Unfortunately, Joyce, I'm reading your question two different ways: if you refer to the animals' hide colour being different from the hair colour, as in the famous polar bear example, then the answer is simple. If, however, you are pointing out that completely different animals have very similar markings, then the answer is slightly more complicated. Hide and hair can cover the whole mammalian class while scale or skin or feather covering will have to be mentioned in this text, as all Chordates along with the invertebrate masses appreciate the outer coat as a valuable survival aid! Perhaps that is the explanation you seek. That "coat" you want to buy at the sales is even more valuable for breathing, protection, repulsion, attraction, communication and many other functions in the animal kingdom. Mimicry lies near the heart of your question, too. If an animal gains an advantage by being a poison carrier, others that look similar will be avoided by predators. Many insects employ this coat tactic without ever knowing that evolution has prevented attacks from some animals that are programmed to avoid that pattern. Natural selection unfortunately means that predators clever enough to change their eating habit can cash in on this mimic big time! Your example is the whole group of the familiar hover-flies (the Syrphids) which pretend to be bees or wasps in habit and colour. Even humans normally accept this deception. Bringing flowers into the equation briefly will help as the orchids such as bee orchid are tremendous mimics for a bee species. Snake mimics are also common in the literature if you want to check an American species (eastern, Iím afraid) on the net http://www.snak esandfrogs.com/scra/snakes/coral.htm Back to skin and hides. Mimicry among Mammals is more rare because there are fewer species alive to check. Perhaps the strongest example of hide and hair mimicry is the aardwolf, which resembles the much more aggressive hyena Your question may refer to leopard spots however, found in many of the 36 species of cats such as cheetahs. This spotting pattern acts as camouflage but also helps humans and other species to identify the threat of a predator when the animal is hunting or out in open areas. The final comments should be made on camouflage generally as many animals of all groups blend with their environment. While the hide of the polar bear is black, its coat helps it disguise itself in snow. Every forest or field has its animal you can step on before it will betray its camouflage. Naturally, young animals almost always have the best camouflage in order to sit out a threat while its parent distracts a predator or tries to overcome an obstacle. For a wonderful (childrenís) site on camouflage in all Chordates, go to http://www.zoom whales.com/coloring/camouflage.shtml which is not in truth about whales, but gives lovely illustration of the basic camouflage of Mammal hair or Reptile scale.


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