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How the leopard got his spots -- really

(Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters).

Rudyard Kipling was right all along, it seems.

In one of his "Just So Stories," Kipling suggested the leopard got its spots because the animal moved to an environment " 'sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows."

The University of Bristol studied the markings of 35 species of wild cats according to a mathematical model of pattern development.

"They found that cats living in dense habitats, in the trees, and active at low light levels, are the most likely to be patterned, especially with particularly irregular or complex patterns," the study's release reads.

Going by this theory, however, Kipling was wrong about one thing: the spots can change, and fast. "Analysis of the evolutionary history of the patterns shows they can evolve and disappear relatively quickly," the study concluded.

The patterns help camouflage the large cats to help protect them as they hunt for prey. As Kipling put it, "You can lie out on the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. You can lie out on the naked rocks and look like a piece of pudding-stone. You can lie out on a leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves; and you can lie right across the centre of a path and look like nothing in particular. Think of that and purr!"

(Mehgan Murphy).

By Melissa Bell  | October 20, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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