The six flags (conspicuous features of adaptive colouration) in the various spp. of giraffes (Giraffa)


Also see

Inconspicuous colouration allows large mammals to be overlooked by predators.

However, it is possible for these animals to communicate socially by means of flags.

Flags are defined as relatively small-scale patterns of colouration, restricted to certain parts of the anatomy, which become conspicuous when the animal moves.

The arrangement of this conspicuous colouration on the figure is such that the feature in question can be displayed to companions without negating the overall crypsis/camouflage.

The location of flags on particularly mobile body-parts - such as the tail, ear pinnae, and feet - allows such communication to be activated by movement, and de-activated when the animal 'freezes' in stationary self-concealment.

Giraffes (Giraffa, see are the largest land mammals with camouflage-colouration (

Therefore, their flags potentially facilitate discrete communication, intraspecifically, over distances of hundreds of meters.

Flags in giraffes comprise

  • one dark flag, viz a caudal flag, and
  • five pale flags.

The pale flags of giraffes (auricular, pedal, laryngeal, ilial, and pectoral) are relatively subtle. This is mainly because they

  • depend partly on sheen effects, and
  • can be activated by slight movements.


A caudal flag in giraffes consists of a consistently black tail-tassel.

This flag is activated by vigorous movement of the tail, particularly while the animal is running ( and

The following shows that the caudal flag is not activated in self-defence while standing:


The auricle (= pinna) is the visible portion of the outer ear (

The auricular flag in giraffes consists of a pale, sheeny surface on the back-of-ear ( This accentuates the movement of figures walking away from the observer.

Because this flag is restricted to the posterior surface of the ear pinna, it is more precisely called a posterior auricular pinna.

The auricular flag is relatively poorly developed in Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi (in which the sheen effect seems weak) and Giraffa camelopardalis peralta (in which the pale feature seems hardly noticeable given that the whole head tends to be pale, see

Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi

Giraffa tippelskirchi thornicrofti

Giraffa giraffa giraffa


A laryngeal flag, consisting of a pale tract between the crook of the throat and the base of the ear, occurs in several forms of giraffe, subject to individual variation. It is clearest and most consistent in Giraffa tippelskirchi.

The laryngeal flag works in conjunction with a conspicuous paleness on the cheeks that occurs in several forms of giraffe, subject to individual variation and illumination (e.g. and and and and and

The following show that a laryngeal flag is produced by alteration of both the matrix (= ground colour) and the spotting: and

At the crook of the throat, the matrix (= ground colour) is converted from fawn to whitish, and the spotting is largely absent.

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi

Giraffa giraffa giraffa

Giraffa giraffa angolensis

The laryngeal flag is continuous with the auricular flag in certain perspectives ( and

However, the laryngeal flag is activated by the movements of foraging ( and and


A pedal flag occurs in two of the four species of giraffes. This

The following, of Giraffa tippelskirchi, show laryngeal and pedal flags within the same photos: and

In Giraffa camelopardalis, the pedal flag extends to the whole of the lower legs.

Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi
second photo in

In Giraffa tippelskirchi, the pedal flag is restricted to the pasterns and fetlocks (

Giraffa tippelskirchi tippelskirchi
a photo found by scrolling through

Please compare the following versions of a pedal flag:


The ilial flag is a nebulously pale and sheeny area on the hindquarters, offset by a dark, anti-sheen effect on the rump above it. It can work in conjunction with the caudal flag (e.g. However, of all the flags it is - dependent on individual and illumination - the one most visible at a distance (e.g.

In the following of Giraffa giraffa giraffa, one individual shows the ilial flag while the other nicely shows how much more conspicuous the ear pinna becomes when its posterior surface appears:

The following also shows a combination of the auricular flag and the ilial flag in Giraffa giraffa giraffa:

Giraffa giraffa giraffa
third photo in and


The pectoral flag is a paired pale patch on the anterior surface of the junction between forelegs and chest. It is most noticeable in mature males, which tend to be otherwise darkened.

Giraffa giraffa giraffa


No form of giraffe possesses all of the above flags.

Considering only the pale flags:

An ilial flag and a pectoral flag occur only in Giraffa giraffa, and are individually variable. The following shows four of the flags possessed by Giraffa giraffa giraffa, within one photo:

The distribution, by geographic area, is as follows:

  • species camelopardalis, found from West Africa to western Kenya, has an auricular flag (except in subspecies peralta) and a pedal flag (in attenuated form);
  • species reticulata, found in northern Kenya, has only an auricular flag;
  • species tippelskirchi, found from Kenya to eastern Zambia, has an auricular flag (perhaps relatively poorly developed), a laryngeal flag, and a pedal flag (in accentuated form); and
  • species giraffa, found in southern Africa, has an auricular flag (perhaps relatively poorly developed), a laryngeal flag (relatively poorly developed), an ilial flag, and a pectoral flag, the last two being restricted to subspecies giraffa (task: check ssp. angolensis).

Thus, a noteworthy aspect of the pale flags - as opposed to the consistently dark tail-tassel that constitutes the caudal flag - is the variation among the species and subspecies of giraffes.

(The following shows the caudal and auricular flags in action simultaneously, which again enhances conspicuousness because of the contrast between dark and pale:

The only pale flag common to all species of giraffes is a posterior auricular flag. In the case of Giraffa reticulata (see and, this is the only conspicuously pale feature on the whole figure, viewed from any angle.

Publicado el marzo 31, 2021 02:25 MAÑANA por milewski milewski


Very interesting, many thanks for posting this!

Publicado por anasacuta hace más de 2 años

@anasacuta You are most welcome.

Publicado por milewski hace más de 2 años

Fascinating observations made here. Thanks for the lesson!

Publicado por goodlordbird hace más de 2 años

@goodlordbird Hi Nathan, I'm so glad that you find this informative, with best wishes from Antoni.

Publicado por milewski hace más de 2 años

The following show that - in contrast to its clear development in Giraffa tippelskirchi - the laryngeal flag is residual/incipient in Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi:

Publicado por milewski hace alrededor de 2 horas
Publicado por milewski hace alrededor de 2 horas

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