Do Zebras Have Stripes On Their Skin?
What's under animals' hair and fur coats may surprise you.
Animals are smart. They never take their coats off. (Before and After: See Animals Change Their Coats for Winter.)
But what does animal skin look like under fur or hair—especially strikingly patterned animals such as big cats and zebras? Reader Christian Meyer asked Weird Animal Question of the Week to investigate.
The short answer is it depends on the animal.
All mammalian hair color is dictated by melanin-producing cells, called melanocytes, that live within hair follicles. Melanocytes that live between follicles control skin color, says Greg Barsh, a geneticist at Hudson Alpha Biotechnology Institute in Huntsville, Alabama.
The two systems are controlled by different genes, hormones, and other factors, says Barsh, who studies the genetics of animal color patterns.