Conspicuous features of colouration in giraffes

Inconspicuous colouration allows large mammals to be overlooked by predators. However, it is possible for these animals to communicate socially by means of flags - small-scale conspicuous features arranged on the figure so as to be displayed discretely to companions without negating the overall crypsis/camouflage.

The location of flags on particularly mobile body-parts such as the ear pinnae, feet and tail allows such communication to be activated by movement, and de-activated when the animal 'freezes' in stationary self-concealment.

Because giraffes (Giraffa, see https://giraffeconservation.org/giraffe-species/) are the largest land mammals with camouflage-colouration (https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-sizing-him-up-etosha-national-park-namibia-young-playful-cheetah-giraffe-attempt-to-play-image94704382), their flags potentially facilitate communication over distances of hundreds of meters.

A CAUDAL FLAG in giraffes - consisting of a black tail-tassel - is activated by vigorous movement of the tail, particularly while the animal is running (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsaOn85TqUE and https://www.canstockphoto.com/giraffe-running-on-african-plains-52505825.html).

However, the pale flags of giraffes are relatively subtle, because they depend on sheen effects and can be activated by slight movements.

A noteworthy aspect of these pale flags is the variation among the species and subspecies of giraffes.

The only pale flag common to all species of giraffes is an auricular flag. In the case of Giraffa reticulata (see https://i.redd.it/3ju4klr11lv31.jpg and https://www.masterfile.com/image/en/841-02824842) this is the only conspicuously pale feature on the whole figure, viewed from any angle.

The following shows the caudal and auricular flags in action simultaneously, which again enhances conspicuousness because of the contrast between dark and pale: https://www.shutterstock.com/nb/video/clip-2484515-wild-group-extremely-endangered-rothschild-giraffe-giraffa.

AURICULAR FLAG

The auricular flag in giraffes consists of a pale, sheeny surface on the back-of-ear (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10445552). This accentuates the movement of figures walking away from the observer. It is relatively poorly developed in Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi (in which the sheen effect seems weak) and Giraffa camelopardalis peralta (in which the pale feature seems hardly noticeable given that the whole head tends to be pale, see https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/milewski/59814-the-puzzle-of-conspicuous-pallor-in-a-sahelian-giraffe-part-1#).

Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi

https://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/photo/three-giraffes-are-going-towards-a-forest-royalty-free-image/918726918?adppopup=true
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/herd-of-rothschilds-giraffe-uganda-gm157426768-8892084
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/baringo-giraffe-gm1340762784-420737767
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/wild-rothschild-giraffe-in-kenya-gm1168571578-322707097
https://www.hemis.fr/image-photo/557797/kenya-great-rift-valley-lake-nakuru-national-park-baringo-giraffe-giraffa-cameleopardalis.html
https://www.mindenpictures.com/stock-photo-rothschilds-giraffes-giraffa-camelopardalis-rothschildi--in-savanna-naturephotography-image90720680.html
https://www.zoochat.com/community/media/reticulated-giraffe.478769/

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/masai-giraffe-savannah-gm478419854-67337859
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66937412
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-giraffe-serengeti-image464040
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2308366
https://stock.adobe.com/sk/search?filters%5Bcontent_type%3Aphoto%5D=1&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Aillustration%5D=1&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Azip_vector%5D=1&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Avideo%5D=0&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Atemplate%5D=0&filters%5Bcontent_type%3A3d%5D=0&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Aaudio%5D=0&filters%5Binclude_stock_enterprise%5D=0&filters%5Bis_editorial%5D=0&filters%5Bfree_collection%5D=0&filters%5Bcontent_type%3Aimage%5D=1&k=%22masai+giraffe%22&order=relevance&price%5B%24%5D=1&safe_search=1&limit=100&search_page=21&search_type=pagination&get_facets=0&asset_id=99370073
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73621039
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66514114
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30264129
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/giraffes-in-masai-mara-reserve-gm1314002621-402348612

Giraffa tippelskirchi thornicrofti

https://www.robertharding.com/preview/1320-47/herd-giraffe-stare-distance-south-luangwa-national-park/
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14509328

Giraffa giraffa giraffa

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/4890790
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/17749944
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66782849
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/75826277
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/16714252
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Giraffes_in_Kruger_National_Park.jpg
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73879596
https://www.agefotostock.com/age/en/details-photo/south-african-giraffes-giraffa-giraffa-giraffa-feeding-on-leaves-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park-northern-cape-south-africa-africa/ZI6-3020214
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/51578325
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19998991
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/11268385
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/75582773

LARYNGEAL FLAG

A laryngeal flag, consisting of a pale tract between the crook of the throat and the base of the ear, occurs in several forms of giraffe, subject to individual variation. It is clearest and most consistent in Giraffa tippelskirchi.

The laryngeal flag works in conjunction with a conspicuous paleness on the cheeks that occurs in several forms of giraffe, subject to individual variation and illumination (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/17534088 and https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/giraffes-in-tsavo-east-national-park-tsavo-west-and-amboseli-gm1199696012-343350688 and https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-masai-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-tippelskirchi-masai-mara-park-111555190.html and https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-giraffe-feeding-acacia-tree-tongue-out-image36603276 and https://www.freepik.com/premium-photo/giraffe-near-large-tree-masai-mara-kenya_12050017.htm#&position=8 and https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-southern-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-giraffa-bull-collects-flowers-73318924.html).

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/giraffe-and-baobab-tree-under-blue-sky-in-ruaha-national-park-in-tanzania-gm1198712362-342691751
https://www.natgeokids.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Giraffe-Facts-2.jpg
https://www.dreamstime.com/adorable-wild-giraffe-beautiful-pattern-coat-cute-giraffe-photo-has-dark-light-brown-fur-image112071996
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/masai-giraffe-serengeti-tanzania-africa-gm460390571-31595452
https://www.masterfile.com/image/en/600-03814912/masai-giraffe-masai-mara-national-reserve-kenya
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/reticulated-giraffe-grazing-on-small-jean-michel-labat.html
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/maasai-giraffe-on-the-move-james-warwick.html

Giraffa giraffa giraffa

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20390103
https://peapix.com/bing/9393
https://pixabay.com/photos/giraffe-africa-nature-467166/
https://www.everypixel.com/image-8596535059091917737
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-giraffe-image14687355
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/giraffe-gm488890075-39889906
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5141178

Giraffa giraffa angolensis

https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-giraffe-namibia-image15159409

The laryngeal flag is continuous with the auricular flag in certain perspectives (https://www.dreamstime.com/giraffe-calf-its-mom-maasai-mara-national-reserve-kenya-her-baby-african-savannah-image167332536 and https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-whos-coming-giraffes-alert-wildlife-heads-ears-above-acacia-trees-to-see-looking-down-valley-hearing-vehicles-image31623364). However, it is activated by the movements of foraging (https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-giraffe-eating-image22388031 and https://www.dreamstime.com/giraffe-vast-green-savanna-chews-bushes-real-pretty-day-image216044996 and https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/94246126).

PEDAL FLAG

A pedal flag occurs in two of the four species of giraffes. This consists of spotless pale surfaces on the feet and is activated by walking.

In Giraffa camelopardalis the pedal flag extends to the whole of the lower legs.

Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi

https://www.shutterstock.com/nb/image-photo/rotschild-giraffes-lake-nakuru-national-park-392713453
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-single-african-giraffe-image3482588
second photo in https://www.africanbudgetsafaris.com/blog/facts-about-giraffes/#gallery/https://d2g6byanrj0o4m.cloudfront.net/images/15613/giraffe_running.jpg/
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-giraffe-herd-savannah-image27232567
https://www.twenty20.com/photos/130370da-9873-4cbf-b7b6-5b521bfcd379
https://www.picfair.com/pics/06014049-rothchild-s-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-nakuru-district-of-the-rift
https://society6.com/product/giraffe-animal-on-the-serengeti-national-park-tanzania-country-east-africa_stretched-canvas
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/rothschild-giraffe-under-rainy-weather-condition-gm184982911-18702556
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/rothschilds-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-rothschildi-gm1183152375-332545504
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/giraffes-herd-in-savannah-gm1166262329-321217655
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/rothschilds-giraffes-gm514615669-47646538
https://www.alamy.com/rothschilds-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-rothschildi-adult-walking-on-savanna-murchison-falls-national-park-uganda-november-image243664115.html

In Giraffa tippelskirchi the pedal flag is restricted to the pasterns and fetlocks (https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-red-billed-oxpecker-buphagus-erythrorhynchus-pair-on-giraffe-giraffa-125509879.html).

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi

https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-masai-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-tippelskirchi-males-fighting-125429292.html
https://www.shutterstock.com/nb/image-photo/masai-giraffe-maasai-known-kilimanjaro-largest-91262810
https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-giraffe-image17934475
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/86665608
https://www.dreamstime.com/giraffe-serengeti-plains-tanzania-africa-great-migration-giraffe-serengeti-plains-tanzania-africa-northeastern-area-near-image158533093
https://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/photo/safari-in-kenya-a-giraffe-is-watching-in-the-royalty-free-image/1203198284?adppopup=true
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-giraffe-masai-mara-image17479462
http://scanbird.com/Mammals/Africa/Giraffe/slides/Manyara%20giraf00.html
https://pixels.com/featured/the-garden-of-eden-ndutu-jeffrey-c-sink.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masai_giraffe#/media/File:Young_Maasai_Giraffes.jpg
https://es.123rf.com/photo_35909720_giraffes-in-lake-manyara-national-park-tanzania.html
https://www.dreamstime.com/large-giraffe-eats-leaves-tall-tree-masai-mara-kenya-large-giraffe-eats-leaves-tall-tree-masai-mara-kenya-africa-image116519367
https://www.alamy.com/a-giraffe-looks-at-the-camera-while-another-giraffe-looks-away-image433963305.html

An ilial flag and a pectoral flag occur only in Giraffa giraffa and are individually variable.

ILIAL FLAG

The ilial flag is a nebulously pale and sheeny area on the hindquarters, offset by a dark, anti-sheen effect on the rump above it. It can work in conjunction with the caudal flag (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27848519). However, of all the flags it is - dependent on individual and illumination - the one most visible at a distance (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/16496739).

Giraffa giraffa giraffa

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40949059
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/rothschild-giraffe-in-natural-habitat-gm1291905028-386882584
https://www.robertharding.com/preview/741-4431/southern-giraffe-giraffa-camelopardalis-chief-island-moremi-game/
third photo in https://www.thecrowdedplanet.com/things-to-do-in-botswana-one-week-itinerary/
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/70309925 and https://es.123rf.com/photo_6761884_giraffes-in-chobe-national-park-botswana.html
https://www.agefotostock.com/age/en/details-photo/2-giraffes-giraffa-camelopardalis-okavango-delta-botswana/AAM-AAES79257
https://www.flickr.com/photos/27727912@N03/49219139176/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriscorbet/22715521997/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/manuelromaris/50203975892
https://www.123rf.com/photo_111847852_giraffe-in-kruger-national-park-south-africa-specie-giraffa-camelopardalis-family-of-giraffidae.html
https://www.shutterstock.com/nb/image-photo/wild-giraffe-african-savannah-typical-landscape-1560945341
https://www.alamy.com/south-african-giraffe-chobe-botswana-safari-image343877708.html
https://www.alamy.com/southern-giraffe-giraffa-giraffa-roaming-herd-kalahari-desert-kgalagadi-transfrontier-park-south-africa-image184078576.html
https://www.alamy.com/giraffe-giraffa-camelopardarlis-giraffa-side-view-of-an-adult-walking-in-the-savannah-mpumalanga-south-africa-image355185321.html

PECTORAL FLAG

The pectoral flag is a paired pale patch on the anterior surface of the junction between forelegs and chest. It is most noticeable in mature males, which tend to be otherwise darkened.

Giraffa giraffa giraffa

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/72922453
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/86379216
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/44924108
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/31409053
https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-adult-bull-giraffe-image22166473

SUMMARY

No form of giraffe possesses all these flags. The distribution, by geographic area, is as follows:

  • species camelopardalis, found from West Africa to western Kenya, has an auricular flag (except in subspecies peralta) and a pedal flag (in attenuated form);
  • species reticulata, found in northern Kenya, has only an auricular flag;
  • species tippelskirchi, found from Kenya to eastern Zambia, has an auricular flag (perhaps relatively poorly developed), a laryngeal flag and a pedal flag (in accentuated form); and
  • species giraffa, found in southern Africa, has an auricular flag (perhaps relatively poorly developed), a laryngeal flag (relatively poorly developed), an ilial flag and a pectoral flag, the last two being restricted to subspecies giraffa.
Posted by milewski milewski, March 31, 2021 02:25

Comments

Posted by milewski about 1 year ago (Flag)

The following shows four of the flags possessed by Giraffa giraffa giraffa, within one photo: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-giraffe-family-two-tiny-babies-small-enjoying-winter-sun-group-adults-image43592890.

Posted by milewski about 1 year ago (Flag)

Very interesting, many thanks for posting this!

Posted by anasacuta about 1 year ago (Flag)

@anasacuta You are most welcome.

Posted by milewski about 1 year ago (Flag)

Fascinating observations made here. Thanks for the lesson!

Posted by goodlordbird about 1 year ago (Flag)

@goodlordbird Hi Nathan, I'm so glad that you find this informative, with best wishes from Antoni.

Posted by milewski about 1 year ago (Flag)

The following of Giraffa tippelskirchi show laryngeal and pedal flags within the same photos: https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/masai-giraffe-gm1257170721-368333347 and https://fineartamerica.com/featured/lake-manyara-giraffe-edmund-hall.html.

Posted by milewski about 1 year ago (Flag)

The following show that a laryngeal flag is produced by alteration of both the matrix and the spotting: https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/birds-on-giraffes-neck-gm972266594-264701207 and https://www.shutterstock.com/nb/image-photo/giraffe-maasai-mara-kenya-1342085414. The matrix is converted from fawn to whitish, and the spotting is largely absent at the crook of the throat.

Posted by milewski 12 months ago (Flag)

The following shows a combination of auricular flag and ilial flag in Giraffa giraffa giraffa: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/33149396.

Posted by milewski 12 months ago (Flag)

In the following of Giraffa giraffa giraffa, one individual shows the ilial flag while the other nicely shows how much more conspicuous the ear pinna becomes when its posterior surface appears: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/11260139.

Posted by milewski 12 months ago (Flag)

The following shows that the caudal flag is not activated in self-defence while standing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCG9y7Sh404.

Posted by milewski 11 months ago (Flag)

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