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Bio-bullets

Five newly revealed ‘conspicu-cats’

Black-and-white armbands remind bullies that small cats can punch above their weight.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: “Skunks defend themselves by spraying obnoxious secretions. Their bold black and white colouration is an anti-predatory adaptation that warns would-be predators of this concealed 'spraygun' weapon. It goes without saying that – despite belonging to the same order as skunks – all 14 genera and 39 wild, extant species in the cat family lack warning colouration. After all, felids are thoroughly committed to concealment as part of their specialisation for hunting, and no cat possesses specialised defences analogous with the obnoxious secretions that characterise mustelids.” 

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: “It’s true that no cat achieves the whole-body aposematism typified by skunks and other mustelids. However, what no biologist has previously noticed is that several species or subspecies of small to medium-size cats have incongruous markings – which defy explanation as either camouflage or a social flag – on the inner surface of the forelegs. The bold pattern is of dark bars against a pale background, contrasting with most of the coat of the species or subspecies in question. The anatomical location of this display makes sense for warning colouration because it emphasises the weapon of deterrence – namely the forefoot – in interspecific conflict. Furthermore, the inner surface of the foreleg – normally hidden during stalking – can be presented when the cat stands tall while arching its back and when it reaches up to strike the aggressor. Although felids have not evolved specialised defensive organs, they surpass other carnivores in possessing twenty particularly sharp claws which can cause lethal infection as well as lacerating the sensitive nose and vulnerable eyes of a larger carnivore. Environments which expose small- to medium-size felids to the risk of attack by several coexisting species of large carnivores are those likely to have exerted particular selective pressures for this form of warning colouration. This is suggested by the fact that aposematic barring on the inner surface of the foreleg has emerged separately in at least four genera of cats, indicating adaptative modification of the ancestral patterns of colouration by certain species, subspecies, and colour morphs. The surprising conclusion is that felids in certain niches have developed aposematic tactics within the framework of their overall strategy of camouflage.” 

 

Notice to readers: Other aspects of the same topic can be found in our blog-post, "A best-kept secret of wild cats: the aposematic bar code". And see our video posted below.

 

 

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.

Five newly revealed 'conspicu-cats'

Last modified on 17 July 2015

Comments   

0 #1 Brad 2014-10-01 08:30
I found this photo showing that the stripes on the fore leg of the rusty-spotted cat don’t really fit in with the rest of the colouration:
0 #2 BioSkeptik 2014-10-01 10:31
Part 1/2: Here’s evidence in favour of your hypothesis of an aposematic aspect to the African wildcat. The first photo shows the defensive posture vs a cheetah harrassing the wildcat playfully.
0 #3 BioSkeptik 2014-10-01 10:33
Part 2/2: and the second photo shows a similar situation with a black-backed jackal. It does seem reasonable to suggest that the bars on the fore limb, visible in these photos, could remind the predators of ‘more danger than meets the eye’. After all, it’s quite possible that the claws of a wildcat are long and sharp enough to slice through a closed eyelid and blind an attacker.
0 #4 Johns 2014-10-02 08:52
Look at this clear barring in the servaline colour morph of the serval cat: www.lequoiacats.com/.../
Also interesting,
when you cross the domestic cat with the serval (which is fashionable these days, producing so-called ‘savannah cats’), the aposematic bar is also brought out more than in either parent. See: pictures-of-cats.org/.../
0 #5 Brad 2014-10-02 10:09
This really good shot shows that the strange armband sticks out like a sore thumb on the sand cat Felis margarita:


+1 #6 Brad 2014-10-02 12:59
Here’s a short & sweet clip www.youtube.com/.../ shows nicely how the jungle cat (Felis chaus) stands tall in alarm and displaying the bands on the legs like you say. Only a few seconds long but worth a look. In the Himalayan foothills I think.
0 #7 Brad 2014-10-02 13:52
If anyone needs proof that the African wildcat is in peril from leopards even in the dry Kalahari look at this:

0 #8 Y. Perelman 2014-10-03 08:25
Here’s some nice footage of a jungle cat pet in Israel www.youtube.com/.../. These cats are bigger and more interesting than the usual house cats. I never realised there’s anything so deep and meaningful about about those stripes on the front.
0 #9 Brad 2014-10-03 13:09
Here are some interesting clips on the African wild cat in southern Africa, showing the colouration you mention:
www.youtube.com/.../
and
www.youtube.com/.../
and www.youtube.com/.../
0 #10 Wildman 2014-10-03 14:29
This nicely shows your ‘aposematic barring’ in the jungle cat in India. See Well done for spotting such an interesting pattern.
0 #11 Taklamakan 2014-10-06 10:09
The barring on the foreleg of some individuals of the jungle cat is too faint to function as warning colouration. See these photos taken in northwestern India: and
0 #12 Brad 2014-10-06 13:01
This is the best shot I could find for the bobcat’s armband. Actually, this blackish stripe on the foreleg is as good a way as any to distinguish bobcat from lynx in North America, particularly in adults. The Canada lynx has no such armband! The field guidebooks seem to have missed this point.

0 #13 Wildman 2014-10-07 08:52
All the cat species with this so-called warning colouration have a pattern in common, their fore legs are more heavily barred/striped than their hind legs. So it’s interesting that this is not the case in tigers. Are tigers
unusual among cats in that their fore legs are less striped than their hind legs, on both outer & inner surfaces?
0 #14 John Anderson 2014-10-08 08:53
Part 1/3: To spice up ordinary cats, breeders have tried two different approaches. They’ve selected particularly striped or rosetted individuals to resemble tigers or leopards, and quite separately they’ve hybridised domestic cats with serval or Asian leopard cat, which are two different genera. The breeds resulting from the first approach are e.g. Toyger and California Spangled, and the ‘breeds’ (actually intergeneric hybrids) resulting from the second approach are e.g. savanna cats and Serengeti cats.
0 #15 John Anderson 2014-10-08 08:55
Part 2/3: The intergeneric hybrid breeds seem to show your ‘aposematic barring’ although that would’ve been the last thing on the minds of the breeders. Is this the serval’s barring or an expression of recessive genes in the domestic cat’s ancestor the wildcat? Here’s some photos of savanna cats (hybrids domestic cat X serval):

0 #16 John Anderson 2014-10-08 08:58
Part 3/3:

0 #17 P. Daniels 2014-10-09 09:29
Wow, check out this fantastic sequence of shots documenting a young leopard killing a wild cat in the Kalahari. Graphic images!

10000birds.com/.../
0 #18 James Markham 2014-10-15 09:44
Something completely different - funny how once you’ve noticed a pattern it seems to crop up all over the place? Giant anteater seems to show convergent evolution with felids in the warning armbands on the foreleg, shown here as it rears defensively. A slow and small-brained species, but dangerously powerful forelegs and claws capable of ripping apart hard termitaria, so jaguars and pumas better watch out.

0 #19 M.R. Zeman 2014-10-15 17:31
Sorry if it looks like I’m competing but isn’t this the best shot of all to show your ominous armband in bobcats? This is Lynx rufus. Also see the white&black highlights on tail and ears. Funny nobody’s noticed before how different the frontleg is. I guess you only see what you know.
0 #20 Brad 2014-10-27 09:10
I agree with M. R. Zeman. Just to show that the pattern is different, here’s a Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), in which the inner foreleg is not as noticeable as it is in bobcats. Bear in mind that Eurasian lynxes are much bigger than bobcats and maybe not as vulnerable.

0 #21 James Markham 2014-10-30 12:26
Something even more different, yet more of the same! Remember my previous comment in which I showed that the giant anteater shares aposematic bars on its forelegs with some wild cats? Well, just look at this Brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria fera). Its inconspicuous at rest but raises its ‘forelegs’ to show aposematic barring when threatened, trying to look as tall as possible like the cat does. Evolutionary convergence between cats and edentates was one thing but it’s a surprise that this tactic works even for spiders?





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