DAVIS, Calif., Nov. 16 (UPI) — A U.S. study shows predators familiar with skunks avoid them, both because of their black-and-white coloration and their distinctive body shape.
University of California-Davis wildlife researcher Jennifer Hunter prepared taxidermy mounts of skunks and of gray foxes, an animal about the same size as a skunk, but with a distinctly different shape. Some of the stuffed skunks she dyed gray, and some of the foxes she dyed black-and-white. She placed the animals at 10 sites around California — in locations where skunks were abundant as well in areas where they were uncommon — and then monitored them with infrared video cameras.
She discovered in locations where wild skunks weren’t commonly found, predators such as bears and coyotes would approach, lick, roll on or attempt to drag away the stuffed skunks as well as the stuffed foxes. But in places where skunks were common, potential predators gave anything skunk-like, either in shape or color, a wide berth.
Hunter said the results suggest a much stronger learning component in prey recognition than was previously thought. She said she was also surprised to find body shape, not just color, was important. Previous studies, mostly conducted in the laboratory, had suggested animals have an inbuilt tendency to avoid brightly colored or multicolored prey.
The study was reported in the Oct. 21 online edition of the journal Behavioral Ecology.
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