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Bio-bullets

Switches in the sign language of the lion during hunting

At least five surfaces on the female lion are adaptively conspicuous, helping co-hunters to monitor each other without being spotted by prospective prey.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: "The female lion is a simple case of cryptic colouration in which a uniform brownish coat hides this predator from its prey against a dull background such as brown grass."

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: "In the lion several flags, previously unrecognized by scientists, are used to facilitate covert communication between hunting members of the group. The female has conspicuously pale, shiny fur at the mouth, chest, underside of tail and side of neck. There is also a conspicuous dark triangle at the back of each ear. All of these features {njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8}are hidden from prey animals when the female lion crouches to stalk and some of them are revealed when it sits up. During stalking of prey, the dark and pale contrasts between the back of the ear and the side of the neck, and between the tail tassel and the underside of the tail, can be used by co-stalkers to keep track of the tactical position of each individual. This subtle combination, of the cryptic colouration typical of members of the cat family and the conspicuous colouration typical of gregarious mammals, has evolved in the lion because, of all cats, it is the one with the most co-operative society."{!njaccess}… Reveal the hidden half of this response by Robin and the Honey Badger by subscribing here{/njaccess}

 

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.

 

Switches in the sign language of the lion during hunting

Last modified on 16 July 2015

Comments   

0 #1 Johns 2014-02-11 11:22
I’d never noticed before that the tail tassel is actually bigger in the lioness than in the hairy male. But sure enough, I’ve found a photo showing this difference clearly: i.huffpost.com/.../...
0 #2 Brad 2014-02-14 15:24
Lions have cryptic coloration, it’s true. But the cubs show the disruptive coloration lions originally shared with leopards and jaguars. What I mean is, lion cubs are a bit spotted. Could be a case of ontogeny repeats phylogeny or could be that the cubs need extra camouflage because they’re so vulnerable. Big male lions are infanticidal so it’s funny to think that lion cubs have camouflage spots to protect them from their own species. Has anyone thought about how the natural selection for that works?
0 #3 Wildman 2014-03-06 10:14
If Robin & Honey Badger are predicting that someone will sooner or later prove that lions can see in ultraviolet, a paper’s just come out that seems to make that a safe enough bet: http . The authors have found that many more mammals than previously thought may be able to see ultraviolet light, including domestic cats. I realise that domestic cats have slit pupils while lions have round pupils, so I’m not jumping to conclusions. But both are in the same family, Felidae and it turns out that UV vision is not that unusual in mammals. Interestingly horses can’t really see in UV and so zebras, the prey of lions, maybe can’t either. So the line of thinking in this biobullet does seem on the right track although it would be nice to have data.
0 #4 Wildman 2014-05-06 08:42
1/2: In a letter to New Scientist of 12 April 2014, one Bob Butler reports how he’s come to see ultraviolet, maybe a bit like you suggest lions see it. Butler writes: “Three years ago, I lost the sight in one eye because of septicaemia following a dog bite. The vitreous humour was removed from my eye and replaced with silicone oil, restoring my vision immediately. Within six months, I developed a cataract and had to have a synthetic replacement lens. This restored the vision in the eye to a better standard than ever before. The following evening, I went for a drink in my local pub, and noticed I could see the ultraviolet light of the counterfeit note detector behind the bar much more distinctly with the repaired eye than with the other. Assuming that both my retinas are equally sensitive, I wonder whether, during the course of evolution, Mother Nature has devised protection against UV light for our eyes that is not afforded by either silicone oil or a prosthetic lens?”
0 #5 Wildman 2014-05-06 08:43
2/2: The answer of course is yes. This inadvertent experiment shows that the human retina can actually see UV. But unlike animals possibly including lions, the human lens filters out the UV so it normally does not penetrate the eye. So your suggestion that lions see UV patterns on each other’s fur is not really all that far-fetched. Lions only live about as long as domestic cats, so retinal damage from UV would not be as important as in humans, who are long-lived with retinas that have to last for up a century. So our lens has a UV filter, and we can’t see UV as lions do except, maybe, if we experience the kind of operations Bob Butler has had.
0 #6 Brad 2014-09-02 08:47
Hey, here’s a picture that shows how good the ears are in showing up lionesses that would otherwise blend in to the surroundings:
0 #7 Wildman 2014-09-19 09:42
Have a look at these photos of white lions from South Africa. The marking on the back of the ear is about the only pigmentation left anywhere on the fur. It shows even in the small cubs! Why would the melanin in your back of ear flag be more genetically hardwired into lions than that of the mane or tail tassel?
.../WhiteLions_drinking_tx800. jpg?aae402d4163f394116c3dd6e60 2f75682c526327 i.ytimg.com/.../hqdefault.jpg
0 #8 Zoophile 2014-09-22 08:44
At first I couldn’t figure out what you meant by hyenas having a ‘neck flag’ but this photo of Hyaena hyaena shows how different the neck is from the rest of the coat in being pale on the sides and abruptly black below, and unstriped. And of course because hyenas have proportionately big necks this does affect their overall appearance, I agree. You’re pretty observant in pointing out this resemblance with lionesses.
0 #9 Brad 2014-09-22 09:46
This photo really shows the pale mouth of the maned lion, what you seem to be calling a mouth flag.
0 #10 BioSkeptik 2014-09-29 09:47
Here's evidence of how the darkness of the male lion's mane makes him stand out even in surroundings that he'd otherwise blend into in broad daylight.
0 #11 M.R. Zeman 2014-10-16 08:44
Part 1/2: You mentioned in your video that the ‘teenage sons’ keep an effeminate pale patch behind the ears to delay being kicked out (or worse) by the pride males, which I guess include their father. Anyway I found three photos that maybe show this ‘neck flag’ in the immature male better than the one you chose for your video. All the following pics show how the silvery area on neck behind ears stays at first to give the rest of the mane a chance to grow. It also makes sense that the mane starts off blond not dark.

0 #12 M.R. Zeman 2014-10-16 08:44


0 #13 Cladman 2014-10-16 12:44
You guys are typical of what Stephen Jay Gould called ‘just so stories’. Sure, male lions manes start off with what you call a ‘neck flag’. See my photo which shows this better than any of the others posted so far. But why do you need an adaptive explanation for everything, why can’t it just be the way the mane happens to grow ontologically? .../lion-take-away-cafe.jpg

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