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Why Do Cows Have Spots?

Cow Flies

It’s that burning question that keeps cattle ranchers and other livestock professionals awake at night: Why do cows have spots? Believe it or not, this topic has been the subject of numerous research studies and endless speculation over the years. There are many theories that have been explored in great depth. But the truth is that nobody really knows for sure why some cows have spots! In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the more well-known cow spot theories.

They Keep the Flies Away

According to a study conducted by University of Texas Pan-American’s Dr. Zen Faulkes, cow spots serve as a natural fly repellent. To test his theory, Dr. Faulkes and his team set out glue-covered boards containing varying numbers of spots. The boards with the largest amounts of small spots attracted the fewest flies. The same held true when the experiment was attempted with glue-covered cows.

Apparently, flies view the hide of darker, solid-colored cows as a more inviting place to lay their eggs. The combination of dark and light spots change the way in which polarized light is reflected, which can confuse the flies.

They Make Them Easier to Identify

Cow Identity

From a distance, all cows look pretty much the same – unless you take a look at their spots. No two cows have exactly the same spot pattern. Some theories speculate that this is nature’s way of making it easier to tell one cow from another. 

Falling Stars

Falling Stars

Science isn’t the basis of every theory regarding the presence of cow spots. According to Native American legend, one summer night shortly after the formation of the universe, a herd of cows was attracted to the sight of a star falling from the sky. Glowing embers from the falling star landed on the cows, setting them on fire.

The cows attempted to extinguish the flames by rolling on the ground, but to no avail. Mother Earth took pity on the burning cows and shifted icy, snowy winds from the north, which cooled the cows and put out the flames. The spots are believed to be remnants of the burns caused by the falling star and have been passed down through the generations.

Do you have your own theory as to why cows have spots?

We’d love to hear it!

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