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Bio-bullets

Gazelle-like antelopes as living flags

The splashed colours of springbok contrast with an exposed habitat rather than blend into it. This conspicuousness aids herding and turns an inevitable visibility into a social advantage.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: "The dark flank-band of springbok breaks up the appearance of the animal so that it can blend into the background. In addition to this disruptive colouration, springbok have cryptic colouration because the white ventral surface aids countershading."

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: "There are no disruptive or cryptic features in the colouration of adult springbok. Indeed, springbok are among the most conspicuous of large mammals and their dark flank-band increases their conspicuousness rather than reducing it. The flank-band is emphasised by an additional band of pale fawn above it and white below it. Also, the ventral white on the body of springbok extends on to the face, lower forelegs, rump, and mid-flanks – all of which are sunlit rather than shaded. The white on the sunlit flank not only defines the dark flank-band but also forms a highlight in its own right. Consequently, and contrary to the principle of countershading, springbok are advertised by a flank-band together with at least four other noticeably dark or pale features. Since springbok live in extremely open vegetation, disruptive or cryptic colouration would be ineffective. Instead, self-flagging enables springbok to detect their herd members as soon as they raise their heads, facilitating ‘safety in numbers’ from their many species of predators. Tonal contrasts are particularly helpful for mutual monitoring among herd members because the vision of springbok is more sensitive to movement than to hue and form."

speaker icon"In other words"


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.

 

Last modified on 17 July 2015

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Comments   

0 #1 Wildman 2014-02-13 12:19
Are the animals in this clip coloured to blend in, or coloured to stand out of their surroundings? The clip is particularly useful because it shows both the springbok and its predator the cheetah in the same location and in similar illumination. So the cheetah can act as a sort of ‘control’. We know for sure that the cheetah is coloured to blend into its surroundings. So is the springbok like the cheetah or different in this way? Come to think of it, why are no deer or antelopes spotted like a cheetah if they are coloured to blend into their surroundings? And if the flank band of the springbok is meant to hide it, why don’t big cats have flank bands?

www.youtube.com/.../
0 #2 Zoophile 2014-03-07 12:01
If the springbok is showy on account of being a largeish animal in open surroundings, shouldn’t all species of ‘plains game’ everywhere in the world be conspicuously coloured by the same token? It’s obvious at a glance that most of them have a different pattern from gazelles’, so it would be interesting to analyse the different ways in which they look more obvious to herd members on the plains. How would this work for zebras for example?
-1 #3 Gronbek 2014-03-07 17:02
@wildman. I did some Google image searches and although I thought I already knew the answer I have to admit this animal turns out to be more conspicuous than I expected. I started out with a search image for cryptic colouration but these two pictures in particular were surprisingly vivid:


-1 #4 P. Daniels 2014-09-08 14:20
This photo really shows the difference between the camouflage colouration of the cheetah and the flag colouration of a relative of the springbok, Thomson’s gazelle:
0 #5 Wildman 2014-09-17 08:31
I found myself wondering what springbok would look like if they were coloured for camouflage. I realise that leopards are at their edge of their habitats in the desert and that they’re nocturnal, but I still thought it’s interesting to see their colouration where there’s no cover to hide the big cat:
0 #6 Zoophile 2014-09-22 09:27
Steenbok share all springbok habitats and are related to them as a kind of mini-gazelle, but they’re too small to form herds. I noticed that steenbok don’t have the conspicuousness of the springbok. Look how well steenbok blend into their surroundings. This seems to support your idea that bright colouration in springbok is all about gregariousness?
www.flickr.com/.../2874206981
www.flickr.com/.../4140773926

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