Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Cheetah That Has Changed Its Spots

The news is not so much that of the leopard that changed its spots, as that of the king cheetah. Over the past century, this sub-species of cheetah, found only in eastern Zimbabwe and northern Botswana, has developed horizontal stripes of joined spots along its spine and blotches on its flanks. No one quite knows why.
One possibility is that the king cheetah's habitat has changed from grassland to a mixture of grassland and forest, and has therefore adapted its camouflage for hunting both on plains and in woodland. This has brought it more into competition with the larger and more powerful leopard.

Although its normal spots give the cheetah disruptive camouflage when stalking in grassland, they would be less effective from a leopard's viewpoint among the branches overhead. It has been suggested that, from above, the stripes on its spine may blend with branch shadows and make the cheetah less obvious - enough, perhaps, to make a leopard hesitate to attack.

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