What is the difference between merle and dapple?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

The merle pattern and the dapple pattern are often used interchangeably to describe the same color pattern in animals, particularly dogs. However, there are some subtle differences between the two terms.

Firstly, let’s talk about the merle pattern. Merle refers to the random splotches of dark pigmentation that overlay a lighter shade of the same color. These splotches can vary in size and shape, creating a unique and eye-catching pattern on the animal’s coat. The dark pigment can be black, gray, or blue, and it is typically distributed unevenly, resulting in a mottled appearance.

On the other hand, the term dapple is also used to describe a similar pattern, but it is more commonly associated with horses and certain dog breeds, such as Dachshunds. Dapple refers to the same random spots of darker pigmentation, but these spots are usually smaller and more densely packed than in the merle pattern. The overall effect is a coat that appears speckled or mottled, similar to the pattern seen on the skin of some fruits like apples or pears.

While merle and dapple patterns share similarities in terms of the random distribution of dark spots, the term merle is more commonly used in reference to dog breeds, such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and Great Danes. On the other hand, dapple is often associated with horse breeds, such as the Appaloosa, as well as certain dog breeds, like Dachshunds.

It’s important to note that both the merle and dapple patterns can have health implications for the animals that possess them. In dogs, the merle gene is known to be associated with a higher risk of certain health issues, such as deafness, blindness, and skin problems. This is especially true when two merle-patterned dogs are bred together, which can result in a higher likelihood of these health concerns appearing in their offspring.

Similarly, in horses, the dapple pattern can sometimes be linked to certain genetic conditions or health problems. For example, some dapple-colored horses may be more prone to skin sensitivity or allergies compared to other coat colors.

While the terms merle and dapple are often used interchangeably to describe the same pattern of random dark spots on a lighter base color, there are subtle differences in usage and association. The merle pattern is more commonly used to describe dogs, while dapple is frequently used in reference to horses and specific dog breeds. Both patterns can have health implications, so it is important for breeders and owners to be aware of these potential risks and take appropriate measures to ensure the well-being of the animals.