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Darker giraffes are more solitary and less social for some reason

Posted September 26, 2019

Humans are not the only social animals in the world. Other species also enjoy having company around for safety, reproduction, feeding and other reasons. And, just like humans, animals may have some quirks when it comes to socializing. For example, a new research from The University of Queensland proved that darker male giraffes happen to be more solitary and less social than lighter-coloured giraffes.

Darker male giraffes find it more difficult to find companions. Image credit: Bernard DUPONT via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Giraffes typically stay together in groups ranging up to 66 individuals. The size and composition of these groups depends heavily on their environment, anthropogenic, temporal, and social factors. Interestingly, young males sometimes form their own little gangs and enjoy engaging in play fighting. However, as they get older, the games stop and they start looking for potential mates. As they get older still, males may choose to live a solitary lifestyle or stay in female-dominant groups. This new research shows that solitary lifestyle is not just for older males – it is also for darker ones.

Some giraffes have a little bit darker spots than others. Usually scientists don’t pay too much attention to it, because previously it wasn’t something that seemed to affect animal’s behaviour. However, this new long-term study revealed that the colour of male giraffes’ spots actually affects its social life or at least can be associated with it. This makes scientists take a look at older male giraffes as well, because some of them actually get darker as they age. On the other hand, other ones get lighter. Scientists analyzed data on 66 males collected over 12 years in the Etosha National Park in Namibia to see how the colour of the spots affects giraffe’s social life.

Scientists think that the colour of those spots is related to the dominance of the male. Darker giraffes may be roaming between females actively looking for a suitable mate. Meanwhile lighter ones are less dominant and may take what is left after dominant male is not around. Scientists think the colour of the giraffe’s fur is somehow related to the condition of the male and works the same way as lion’s mane.

Associate Professor Anne Goldizen, fellow author of the study, said: “Colour could be linked to testosterone, to heat stress, diet, genetics or a combination of multiple factors. The more we learn about giraffes, the more questions we have. And giraffes have recently been moved from ‘of least concern’ to ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, so further research on these gentle giants is critical”.

Getting to know giraffes more is crucial for conservation. Hopefully, these quirks of their social life will lead to more substantial knowledge in the near future.


Source: University of Queensland

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