Wildlife TV

Learn interesting and funny plant and animal facts with videos and photos

Impala: Dressed for success

on May 24, 2013

If you’ve ever been in the bush, you will have undoubtedly seen one of these beautiful animals: the noble Impala (Aepyceros melampus). Unfortunately these animals have acquired an unfair reputation as being boring and unimpressively commonplace. I have witnessed guides driving past a herd of impala without saying a word about them to their guests, I have even heard the odious acronym ‘ABI’; ‘Another Bloody Impala’, said in frustration by guides who claim ‘they haven’t seen anything’ on a game drive that was in fact littered with beautiful animals, which just so happened not to be one of the ‘Big 5’.

But enough complaining! Look at this beautiful specimen of an impala ram, as seen in the last ‘Photo Previews‘ post.

There are over 2 million Impala in Africa; one of the most successful mammals.

Male Impalas (rams) have horns whereas females (ewes) do not.

Impala have also been called ‘McDonalds of the bush’; in reference to their ubiqutousness and the frequency that they are predated upon, but this term is derogatory and cynical, impala are Africa’s survivalists; an ancient and adaptable species that has a whole host of characteristics that have enabled it to become one of the most successful mammals in Africa. But for now, let’s just look at some of their more visible characteristics.

Notice how an impala is much darker on its back, on top, than it is on its belly, underneath. This is for a very good reason, not just because it looks cool; as sunlight hits objects from above it typically causes the top of objects to appear lighter, becoming progressively darker as it moves down, as shadows are cast. This is called countershading and is a form of camouflage employed to cancel out this lighting effect through animals being darker on top than they are underneath so that they blend more seamlessly into their environment.

Many animals have colouration on their rears that are distinctive and stand out from the rest of their body; primarily as a form of communication, these are called ‘follow-me-signs’. Impala are almost entirely reddish-brown, however, at their rump they have striking black and white stripes at the top of their legs and on their tail; but why break their camouflage? When predators appear and a herd of impala need to run away, distinctive markings at their rear allow impala to follow one another which means that the herd can keep together but also, in a more sinister strategy; it means that one impala can get another to follow behind it, potentially sacrificing a fellow impala to the predator in order to escape safely.

Sometimes, impala can be observed as being darker in colour early in the morning, or when the weather is bad, and there is a reason for this. When cold, many mammals exhibit ‘piloerection’, or in other words, ‘goosebumps’; this is where animals’ skin becomes bumpy, causing hair to stand on end. With fur raised, air can be trapped close to the skin providing insulation and keeping an animal warm; humans exhibit piloerection for the same reason but our fur isn’t quite as dense as an impalas’. But with their fur raised, impala’s appearance changes and they do indeed seem darker than usual, and this might have advantages for survival; early in the morning, late in the evening and in poor weather when it is cold, it is also darker, and so appearing darker might aid in camouflage.

There are over 2 million Impala in Africa; one of the most successful mammals.

There are over 2 million Impala in Africa; one of the most successful mammals.
Photo Credits

So as you can see, just by having effective fur colouration, the impala can utilise different survival techniques. However, we are not even close to having discussed all of the strategies that have made impala so successful: their social skills, their breeding tactics, their feeding methods and others. They are fascinating and beautiful animals and we’ll bring you more interesting facts about them in the future!

Thanks for reading!

Much love,

-Nick

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9 responses to “Impala: Dressed for success

  1. Rory Young says:

    Good article. Thanks.

    • Wildlife TV says:

      Thank you. I really do love impala, and not just because they look so elegant; I find them fascinating and I hope to write more articles about them.
      -Nick

  2. Alison Jobling says:

    I don’t see how anyone could think they’re boring – their fleetness, graceful legs, and long elegant face, along with those curved and spiralled horns, make them beautiful, and their survival adaptations make them fascinating. It’s no wonder the ancient Egyptians used them on their painted walls (along with lots of other animals, of course).

    • Wildlife TV says:

      Tragically it’s true; I’ve heard people say quite dismissive and sometimes derogatory things about Impala. I think the problem is that they are everywhere, but many guides do not bother to do the research about them and so are frustrated at having nothing to say about a subject that is all over the place. There is, of course, no shortage of things to say!
      -Nick

  3. Rachel says:

    Really interesting article, especially about countershading – I never knew that.

  4. I agree they are often overlooked – but it would be an unusual safari to stop at every impala you see 🙂 I remember a guide on our first ever safari stopping to talk about them and the impala looked at us and freaked out coz they weren’t used to the attention 🙂

    Was interesting to hear about the colour change in the cool weather

    • Wildlife TV says:

      It would indeed be an unusual safari if it was all about impala (I personally wouldn’t mind though!), especially because you’d have to stop every 30 seconds when you spot the next group of impala! But it is a shame that they don’t get more of a mention, even if they are a bit surprised when they’re the center of attention.
      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you found the post interesting.
      -Nick

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