Coloration of Carnivores

Posted: 12.20.2017

The reasons that so many carnivores have colorful and memorable faces and chests are still not understood. Tim Caro led a group of biologists CSU Long Beach and the University of Washington on a large scale comparative study of 164 species of dogs, cats, skunks, genets, bears and mongooses to try to understand the beautiful coloration on carnivores’ chests and faces. They found that facial and chest complexity and contrast have evolved for reasons that differ depending on the carnivore family. Fur coloration on the front of the body appears to be involved with social communication in mongooses and dogs; facial coloration is associated with noxious secretions in skunks, with pugnacity in mustelids skunks, civets and mongooses; but with reliance on a mammal-based diet in civets and mongooses; and with avoiding hybridization in bear species. Their findings suggest that is no overriding evolutionary explanation for the stunningly varied facial and chest pelage coloration across carnivores: nature does not always provide easy answers.

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Photo Credit: Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark