is, the other tigers seem to regard her as a member of the species. Not
an error. Just one of the family. Why should we reject their judgment?
Consider, next, other remarkable variants. What about a zebra
that has spots, rather than stripes (Figure 3)? These are not so
uncommon, either. One mare in Botswana gave birth to three such
zebras from 2005 to 2009. Again, should we conclude that these
are not true, full-fledged zebras?
Other zebras lose some of their stripes entirely. In these cases, they
do not lose their black stripes to become white. Rather, developmentally, zebras form white stripes on a dark background (Prothero &
Schoch, 2003). So, without the white stripes, patches appear dark
again, as in their ancestors (Figure 4).
Given these examples, one might wonder if it is possible for a wild
cat to change its proverbial spots? Apparently so. Some cheetahs,
known as “king cheetahs,” have stripes instead of spots (Figure 5)!
All these unexpected cases help erode the intuitive belief in universality. It is easy, of course, to dismiss the exceptions as “abnormal”
or “deviant”: less than an imagined ideal. But one can easily see that
such labels are value judgments, not neutral descriptive science (see
Sacred Bovines, November 2007). All
these animals appeared in nature. Hence,
they cannot be “unnatural.” Stripes (or
spots) are plainly not necessary, even if
they are predominant. The lack of universality here helps expose the faulty
That still leaves the essentialist notion
of fixity, or immutability. But the variation among tigers, zebras, and leopards
from one generation to the next also
Figure 2. Stripeless tigers are not common, but they are not
wholly uncommon (photo by Krzysztof Duda, You Tube).
Figure 3. Not all zebras are uniformly striped. Some have
spots (photo via Bonnie Cook, Pinterest).
Figure 4. Some zebras have lost their stripes. Here, a pseudomelanistic zebra grazes
next to a striped kin (photo courtesy of Linda De Volder).
Figure 5. Not all cheetahs are fully spotted. Here, a “king
cheetah” with stripes crouches next to one with the more
common pattern (photo by Greg Barsh, courtesy of Ann van
Dyke Cheetah Centre).