Protective mimicry in the cheetah, part 4

Everyone knows that, among all the felids, the cheetah has the oddest colouration in infants; and that the best explanation so far is protective mimicry of the honey badger (Mellivora capensis, see

However, what has been widely overlooked is how caricaturised and chimaeric this resemblance is, and the implications for other, more subtle, features of colouration in the cheetah.

The colouration of infants of the cheetah (see and and and and resembles that of the honey badger in only one way: that the usual relationship between shading and countershading is inverted. Instead of the underparts being relatively pale to compensate for shading, it is the back that is pale. If such a crude resemblance works to intimidate would-be attackers, this is because a) this inversion is so powerfully aposematic that it outweighs any incongruities, and b) it is viewed at sufficient distance that only the overall impression counts.

The most obvious incongruity is seen in the head of infants of the cheetah, which remains so unlike the honey badger that the figure looks like a chimaera rather than a plausible example of integrated adaptive colouration.

To summarise this four-part series of Posts: the case for protective mimicry in the cheetah rests on the models being the honey badger for infants, and females of the lion for adults. The resemblance, although imprecise, works well enough to outweigh the obviously kitten-like face of infants and the obviously slender figure of adults. This effectiveness rests on artful caricature at distance of the following features in particular: in the case of infants, inverse countershading; and in the case of adults a) dark back-of-ear offset by pale side of neck, b) dark-and-pale tail-tip, c) whitish mouth, d) pale chest in sitting posture, and e) differentiation of the muzzle from the rest of the face.

With the above rationale in mind, do readers still see the following figures as categorically different and beyond confusion of identity, regardless of illumination or distance: and

Anotado por milewski milewski, sábado, 31 de julio de 2021 a las 02:41 AM


There is a rare colour-morph of the cheetah in which all the markings, except for the malar stripe, are absent, leaving the figure as plain as females of the lion: and and and and and and and and and and This helps to show the potential for confusion of identities. Note that a) the cheetah has relatively long fur on the belly, which disguises the slenderness of its torso, and b) the side of the neck gleams pale, similarly to females of the lion. Unfortunately none of these photos show whether the dark marking on the back-of-ear is retained.

Anotado por milewski hace cerca de un mes (Advertencia)

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