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So This Is How They Do It! Zebras Getting Stripes

Saturday, April 19, 2014 - 11:00 AM

 

How did it happen? How'd the zebra get its stripes?

In Rudyard Kipling's version, a gray, horsey-looking beast went into "a great forest 'sclusively full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-batchy shadows," stayed there awhile, and after a "long time"... got stripy.

OK. Not bad.

Here's another notion, this one from Ricardo Solis, an artist working in Guadalajara, Mexico. He says a team of highly intelligent, "mini-me" creatures got itself a roll of black ribbon. Using giant scissors, the mini-me's cut themselves long slivers, which, dropped from a blimp, they pasted on a horse.

Ricardo Solis

This is such a satisfying explanation. No waiting eons and eons. No random mutations. No molecular biology. Just a team of itty-bitty designers doing, well ... almost intelligent design. They're not precise. Life should be accidental, which is why it feels right that a flamingo gets its pink from teeny buckets of paint, randomly poured. And why the mini-me's down below have to protect themselves with small umbrellas.

Ricardo Solis

Plus, creature-building should be hard work. In making a giraffe, a team of designers had to draw, manufacture and stock each golden-brown blotch, and ship them to the studio, where this monster-sized animal, tethered by a handful of mini-me's, is patiently waiting to be accessorized. It's a paint-by-numbers job, each blotch must be fitted to its pre-figured spot, and if they take too long and the giraffe gets restless? I'm not even going to think about that.

Ricardo Solis

In the Bible, genesis happens super-fast, as befits an all-powerful being. Creation is a six-day effort, from "let there be light" all the way through zebra-striping, giraffe pigmentation and flamingo pinks. Then, on the seventh day, God rests. He gives Himself a single day off. One.

Giraffe Production Bottlenecks

Not the mini-me creatures. Ricardo Solis doesn't say, being an artist, but I'm figuring those little guys needed two, three full days to paint in each giraffe. Multiply that by the number of giraffes on order, and creation is a labor-intensive nightmare. Figuring regular weekends, summer vacations, holidays and medical leave for paint-poisoning, giraffe gestation is going to be very, very slow — which is why, if Ricardo Solis ever visits Africa and gets to see 50, 60 giraffes ambling together across the plain, he — more than the rest of us — will blink, smile and say, "That? That is a miracle!"

There are many routes to appreciating the bounty about us.


To see more Ricardo Solis drawings – of hippos being inflated, armadillos getting armored — you can find his latest work collected here.

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Comments [1]

Miriam English from QLD, Australia

The jaw-droppingly brilliant Alan Turing (the gay genius who had a large part to play in breaking the enigma code in WWII) became interested in the question of animal fur patterns. He felt it was to do with gradients of some messenger molecule(s), but he never really solved it. I think it's still unsolved, though I could be wrong.

You know the old saying about leopards not changing their spots? Well, I've often wondered about that ever since finding hairs on my spotted dog that were part white and part black. Did her spots move as the hair grew out? It seems to me that they must have.

Tangentially related is the color of siamese cats hair -- their pigmentation is apparently switched on or off by a temperature-sensitive gene. This is why feet, tail, ears are black and body white.

Apr. 26 2014 04:46 AM

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