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Keywords:

  • Anal glands;
  • antipredator;
  • Carnivora;
  • pelage;
  • skunks;
  • stripes

Several species of terrestrial carnivores (Mammalia: Carnivora) have bold contrasting color patterns that, in some species, apparently signal possession of noxious anal gland secretions, or even physical strength and great ferocity; yet the evolutionary drivers of both placement and patterning of these contrasting pelage colors on the body, and the ecological selection pressures underlying them, have yet to be systematically examined. Here we explore these issues and find not only that both boldly colored and dichromatic species do indeed often use anal gland secretions for defense, but also that such species are stockier, and live in more exposed habitats where other forms of antipredator defense are limited. We also show that white dorsa are found in sprayers that are primarily nocturnal; that horizontal stripes are found in species that have an ability to spray anal secretions accurately; and that facial stripes are found in burrowing species that typically leave only their heads exposed to attack. Our phylogenetic reconstructions suggest that aposematic coloration has evolved more than once in terrestrial carnivores. We finish by outlining five evolutionary routes for patterns of pelage coloration in this taxon.