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Mama Giraffes’ Spot Patterns Are Passed Down to Their Babies

Newborn giraffes that have large and irregularly shaped spots have a better chance of surviving their first few months of life, according to a new study. Credit: Derek Lee, Wild Nature Institute/Penn State Can you spot the difference between coat patterns of mother giraffes and their gangly, knobby-kneed babies? It turns out that similarities are surprisingly easy to find. That’s because young giraffes inherit much of the detail in their spots from their mamas, and the distribution and shape of their spots determines how well the baby can hide from hungry predators, researchers recently discovered. Giraffes’ spots are commonly thought to provide protective camouflage for youngsters as they hide in the dappled light cast by vegetation, scientists reported in the new study. But until now, analysis of the animals’ spot traits and how they benefit giraffes has been, well, spotty. The researchers decided to do something about that.  For the study, scientists investigated wild Masai giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchii) at the Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. Masai giraffes are known for the complexity and individual variation in their spots, according to the study. Documenting and inspecting the spots on wild giraffes requires time and patience, lead study author Derek Lee, an associate research professor in the Department of Biology at Pennsylvania State University, told Live Science in an email. During the researchers’ surveys, they went looking for giraffes by picking an area and then driving slowly along all the dirt roads. Once they located a group of animals, they would drive off-road to a distance within about 330 feet (100 meters) of the herd, and carefully maneuver into position to...