Tag Archives: Colour and Markings

A long as its black.

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a member of the big cats found in Africa, the Middle East  and some parts of Asia.

The South American, equivalent is the Jaguar (Panthera onca), slightly heavier build than the Leopard.

Both the Leopard and the Jaguar have melanistic  (black pigmented) individuals, both called black panthers.

Thus a black panther can be a black leopard or a black jaguar.

Leopard (Panthera pardus).

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You been crying?

Unlike most cat’s the cheetah  (Acinonyx jubatus) is primarily diurnal (active during the day).

The “tear marks” (malar stripes) on the face of the cheetah reduces glare from the sun, which increases contrast and as a result improves vision.

The use of glare reducing products (creams and strips) is now a feature in certain sports including American football, baseball and  lacrosse.

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

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What, show my true colour?

Normally colour is derived from pigment. This makes it possible to colour clothes, foods, paint etc by simply adding various pigments to the underlying substance.

Iridescent colour does not result from pigment but from sub-micron structures that causes interference and diffraction of light. This is called structural colour.

It appears that the peacock’s, bright iridescent feathers may be covered in brown (melanin) pigment. The pigment appears to absorb background light and in doing so make the iridescent colour appear more vivid.


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Myth became Legend, Legend became Truth.

Why do the Afrikaans speaking people refer to a grey rhinoceros as white? The popular etymological story goes like this:

The Dutch at the Cape of Good Hope called the white rhinoceros the “wide” (Dutch: wijd, Afrikaans: wyd) rhinoceros to refer to its wide mouth adapted for grazing – a grass eater. Its mouth is an anatomical feature that distinguishes it from the black rhinoceros, which is a browser – a leaf eater.

The English misheard/mistranslated ‘wijd’ and started calling the rhino “white”.

Some years later, the Dutch/Afrikaners  on hearing that the English refer to this rhino as white, decided to use the Afrikaans translation for white rather than stick with the anatomically correct name they purportedly gave it earlier.

You won’t be alone in your incredulity; Kees Rookmaaker, Chief Editor of the Rhino Resource Center wrote in a 2003 publication “the popular explanation that ‘white’ is derived from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ is examined and found to be unsubstantiated and historically incorrect.”

White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) at Pilanesberg.

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Beware I am dangerous, I mean harmless.

A number of animals do not camouflage themselves, but copy the bright colours of a dangerous one, a strategy called Batesian mimicry.

This harmless milk snake for example looks much like the very dangerous coral snake.

There are a number of little rhymes to differentiate based on the  colour bands, like this one:

Red follows black – friend of Jack

Red follows yellow – dangerous fellow.

Did I mention it only holds true for North American snakes? (Do check place of birth before getting too friendly.)

Paula with a Pueblan milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum campbelli).

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Black and White Stripes are Good for…

… deterring biting flies.

The purpose of the black and white stripes on zebra has been the subject of some speculation. One suggestion is that stripes make it difficult for predators to single out an individual zebra from the herd, but experimental evidence to support that and other ideas has been lacking.

Turns out bloodsucking horseflies and tsetse flies who do not only deliver nasty bites but also carry dangerous germs find zebra stripes less attractive than uniform colouration.

Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra).

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