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Creation 42(2):39, April 2020

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Polka-dotted zebra



Spotted among a herd of plains zebras (Equus quagga) in Kenya: a polka-dotted foal.1

Wildlife photographer Frank Liu recounted, “At first glance he looked like a different species altogether.” Understandably so, given that the foal lacks the dazzling white-and-black stripiness so characteristic of zebras. Specifically, the foal’s colouration makes it look way more different from any of the existing three zebra species (the other two being Equus grevyi and Equus zebra) than they do from each other.

Similar polka-dot colouration has been observed on zebra foals elsewhere in Africa, e.g. Botswana. According to University of California biologist Brenda ‘Ren’ Larison, the condition is a form of pseudomelanism. This is a rare genetic mutation (an inheritable genetic accident) affecting melanin (pigment) production, which results in abnormality in the stripe pattern.

So is it a loss of stripes, or a gain of dots? The answer might be thought to depend on the perspective from which it is approached. Published details appear scant, but it seems it is thought to be from an abundance (or expansion) of the areas that would normally be black. So perhaps a loss of the control mechanisms affecting stripe development in normal zebras is a better way of describing the effects of this mutation.

Larison and others think it likely that polka-dotted foals mostly do not survive for long. She suggests this may be due to predators more easily distinguishing them from the rest of the herd, or that they are more prone to biting/bloodsucking flies and the diseases they transmit. Recent research shows that the stripes don’t repel flies as such, but make it much harder for them to make a controlled landing.2

Speculation about speciation

However, what if natural selection were instead to smile on the polka-dotted foals, say because their new pattern happened to be better camouflage in a particular environment? So those with polka-dots would come to predominate in the population, perhaps even preferring to mate with similarly patterned animals over the ‘stripe type’.

It would then not take long at all to have herds of polka-dot zebra galloping across the plains—and they would have met the criteria for being declared a new species. This would have arisen by mutation and natural selection, as per neo-Darwinian theory. However, even before Darwin, creationists were well aware of both variation and natural selection, so neither of these are unique to evolution. They knew that natural selection didn’t create the ‘fit’ but culled the unfit.

We have written before on actual examples of such speciation happening, and doing so rapidly.3 Evolutionists are quick to label this sort of thing as a demonstration of ‘evolution’, a process claimed to have turned single-celled organisms like Zoogloea into zebras, zinneas, and zookeepers over millions of years. But nowhere in this discussion, or in any actual example of modern-day speciation, is there any evidence of that sort of change, which would require accumulating gains of genetic information. The presumed evolutionary process would require that new organs and systems (e.g. for air-breathing and for flight) were progressively added over time—but this mutation has not added any of the sort of complex, functional information that this would need.

At best, this mutation has resulted in a mere reshuffling of existing characteristics. At worst, it has done what almost all such random mistakes in DNA copying do—break something, in this case probably the control systems of zebra skin patterning. Of course, that is far easier for an accidental change to achieve than to make something—thus even beneficial mutations (which confer advantage) break something.4

In any case, the likelihood that zebras with this mutation don’t survive as long indicates that it is hardly an improvement to the gene pool. As such, like mutations in general, it is symptomatic of a world now in bondage to decay (Romans 8:21), a far cry from the once “very good” creation in the beginning (Genesis 1:31).

Posted on homepage: 19 April 2021

References and notes

  1. Stacey, K., Rare polka-dotted zebra foal photographed in Kenya; nationalgeographic.com, 18 Sep 2019. Return to text.
  2. Caro, T. and eight others, Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses, PLoS ONE 14(2): e0210831, 2019. Return to text.
  3. See creation.com/speedy. Return to text.
  4. Wieland, C., Beetle Bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997; creation.com/beetle. Return to text.

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