Why do giraffes have patches?

Those distinctive patches help camouflage giraffes from predators, as well as keeping the animal cool.

Acting like a zebra’s stripes, the patches on a giraffe’s skin break up its outline to make is more difficult for predators. A solid outline is easy for the eye to detect, but patterned skin plays tricks on an observer and may be the difference between life and death. A confused predator may take a poorly aimed swipe, allowing the giraffe to escape.

Along with camouflage, this colouration stops a giraffe from overheating. There is a complex network of blood vessels underneath the skin, with large vessels outlining the edges of each patch. Between these large blood vessels are smaller branches that run under the surface of each dark patch. By pumping warm blood through these smaller channels that run close to the skin’s surface, the blood cools down. This brings down the giraffe’s temperature and keeps the animal healthy.

The giraffes long neck gives its body an incredibly high surface area, which helps the animal lose heat more effectively. This could be one of the factors that influenced the evolution of the longest neck in nature.

 

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Image from flickr.com/photos/68538202