The function of facial masks in ‘‘midguild’’ carnivores

A group of medium sized carnivores possesses conspicuously colored facial markings or masks. This facial coloration is most compatible with the aposematic warning hypothesis and functions to deter predation by larger carnivores. Other hypotheses addressing ecological or social functions are not supported by the data.

Facial masks may be a recent character derived from an ancestral contrast in body coloration of carnivores that functioned to warn potential predators of a disproportionate danger in attacking the smaller guild member. This danger may be predicated either on the relative ferocity of the smaller carnivore (wolverine/badger-type) or that the smaller carnivore is equipped with a defensive nauseous discharge that is directly harmful to larger would-be predators.

Facial masks in themselves appear to function as an aposematic warning of aggressive defensive behavior that could be harmful to

C. Newman and C. D. Buesching, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, UK OX1 3PS (chris. [email protected]). / J. O. Wolff, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Memphis,
Memphis, TN 38152, USA.

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