Make Me Smarter #7: There are polka-dotted zebras.
Talk about a horse of another color – a zebra foal with a dark coat and white polka dots has been spotted in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.
Photographer Frank Liu was on the search for rhinos recently when he noticed the eye-catching plains zebra, likely about a week old. “At first glance he looked like a different species altogether,” Liu says. Antony Tira, a Maasai guide who first spotted the foal, named him Tira.
Zebra stripes are as unique as fingerprints, but Tira’s odd coloration could be the first recorded observation in the Masai Mara, according to Liu. Similar foals have been seen in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Tira and these other foals have a condition called pseudomelanism, a rare genetic mutation in which animals display some sort of abnormality in their stripe pattern, says Ren Larison, a biologist studying the evolution of zebra stripes at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Zebras also experience other unusual color variations, such as partial albinism, which was seen in an extremely rare “blond” zebra photographed earlier this year in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Keeping track of such equine aberrations is useful to science as part of a broader goal to monitor changes in species and how they’re managed by local communities.