Black-and-White Pelage as Visually Protective Coloration in Colobus Monkeys


Conspicuous coloration is often seen as the evolutionary consequence of either sexual selection or warning predators visually about prey defences, although not all conspicuous species fit this paradigm. Exceptions include several species of colobus monkeys whose black-and-white coloration, characteristic of larger colobines, has never been explained. Here, using photographs of black-and-white colobus (Colobus vellerosus) taken in the wild, quantitative image analysis, and vision modelling (acuity-corrected feline, chimpanzee, and raptor vision), we provide evidence that their coloration provides distance-dependent camouflage in natural forest environments. At all viewing distances, black-and-white colobus monkeys blend into their environment because of their high chromatic overlap with the background when viewed by ecologically relevant predator vision models which have low visual acuities. Additionally, for chimpanzee and felid vision, there was evidence of edge disruption at longer viewing distances. Our comparative analyses of different species of colobines do not support an association between black-and-white coloration and larger body mass or group size, but this may simply be due to the limited number of species within the family. We reason that black-and-white colobines gain visually protective coloration through background matching against felids, and also benefit through disruptive coloration against felids and chimpanzees but rely on these protective coloration mechanisms less against raptors.

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology