All Patterns Great and Small

All Patterns Great and Small

Researchers uncover the origins of creatures’ stripes and spots

By Tina Hesman Saey, 08:42 AM July 1, 2010

How the leopard got its spots and the zebra its stripes might not be just-so stories much longer. Biologists are beginning to pinpoint the molecular mechanisms animals use to deck themselves out with colorful swirls, stripes, spots and dots.

Insects, fish and mammals may have different tricks. Butterflies and fruit flies, for instance, paint their wing decorations on top of underlying patterns, such as wing veins. Fish may similarly arrange their colored scales according to a “prepattern” but...

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