Why Do Giraffes Have Spots?

By Carrie Williford | November 19, 2021

Most likely camouflage. 1

The general assumption has always been that a giraffe’s coat and pattern is there to help them blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators. But, there hasn’t been a lot of specific study on this theory. 2

Much like the assumptions that have been made with why giraffes have long necks, once we begin to actually study giraffes, we sometimes get more questions than answers.

For example, it has been found that a giraffe’s spots actually help keep them cool or warm. Giraffes don’t sweat, so their spots help them with thermoregulation. There are concentrated blood vessels underneath the spots that expand and contract, depending on the temperature outside.

In the daytime when it’s hot, the blood vessels expand, allowing the giraffe to release its body heat. In the evening, when it gets cooler, their blood vessels constrict, keeping in their body heat. So, their spots are more beneficial to them than simply camouflage. 3

A 2018 study found that baby Massai giraffes with larger and rounder spots correlated with a higher survival rate. Why? It could be because of better camouflage or it could be because of better body temperature regulation. Or, it could be some other reason we haven’t discovered yet. 2 4

  1. Nicole Helget, Giraffes (Mankato, MN: Creative Education,2009) []
  2. Tik Root, “Baby Giraffes Get Their Spots From Mom” National Geographic, October 2, 2018 [][]
  3. Why do giraffes have spots?” YouTube video, 3:16, posted by Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, July 9, 2018 []
  4. Derek E. Lee, Douglas R. Cavener, and Monica L. Bond1, “Seeing spots: quantifying mother-offspring similarity and assessing fitness consequences of coat pattern traits in a wild population of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis), PeerJ 6:e5690 (2018) []