|A picture of one of the Amur tigers at the Denver Zoo. See those white bars surrounded by dark fur on the ears of the cat? Those are the topic of today's discussion.|
To learn more, I consulted my "Wild Cats of the World" book by Mel and Fiona Sunquist. The authors state that many cats have this pattern on their ears, "almost as many species" have the ear eyespots that are "poorly defined or absent." One of the many examples that they include is the lion. As you can see in the pictures below, lions do have this pattern to a certain degree, but nowhere near as derived as in the serval or the bobcat. Below we have pictures of a young adult male lion, two of females, and one of a cub, and you can see that none of them have a very well defined eyespot.
Mountain lions also generally don't have it as well defined. It seems like some mountain lions really don't have that much black on their ears at all, and some have a higher degree of black and white. Presumably, whatever the function the eyespot serves in other species, it is not as important for the mountain lion, and natural selection therefore does not favor it highly one way or another.
It's a little tough to tell in the picture below, but the sand cat is another one of those cats that has a poorly defined eyespot.
Cheetahs also don't have terribly well defined eyespots.
Yet another cat that does not have very well defined eyespots, the ever fantastic Pallas cat!
I thought I had read somewhere that the eyespots served to help communicate between individuals when they were hunting. This doesn't make that much sense, though, because most cats are solitary individuals, with the main exception being lions, and we already noted that their eyespots are not quite as specialized. The Sunquists state in their book that the exact function of the eyespots is unknown, although some scientists believe that they serve as a "follow me" signal to their young, which "may be especially important in low-light conditions." I assumed that this might mean that the young cats wouldn't have the eyespots, but this is clearly not true, as you can see the photograph of Sochi, the new male Amur leopard cub at the Denver Zoo. There, you can see that Sochi (named after the Russian city that is holding this years Olympics) also has the ear spots. So while this doesn't necessarily support the idea of a "follow me" signal to the young, it doesn't really not support it either: it's just something interesting that I wanted to point out.
lynx, but I am pretty certain it is a bobcat, looking at the size of the feet. (Lynx spend a lot more time in the snow, and therefore have larger feet, a snowshoe-like adaptation to keep them from sinking in.) This cat, one of many at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, seems to have much smaller feet in proportion to the rest of the body. Regardless, you can see the well defined eyespots.
snow leopard, one of my favorite cats, has well defined eyespots as well, which you can kind of see in both of these pictures.
|Photo Credit: Masaki Kleinkopf|
Canadian lynx, much like its bobcat relative, also has pretty well defined eyespots!
Sunquist, Mel, and Fiona Sunquist. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. (accessed January 20, 2014).
Tolmé, Paul. "Wildlife Feels the Heat." National Wildlife, August/September 2013.