Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    Here I survey, collate and synthesize contrasting coloration in 5000 species of terrestrial mammals focusing on black and white pelage. After briefly reviewing alternative functional hypotheses for coloration in mammals, I examine nine colour patterns and combinations on different areas of the body and for each mammalian taxon to try to identify the most likely evolutionary drivers of contrasting coloration. Aposematism and perhaps conspecific signalling are the most consistent explanations for black and white pelage in mammals; background matching may explain white pelage. Evidence for contrasting coloration is being involved in crypsis through pattern blending, disruptive coloration or serving other functions, such as signalling dominance, lures, reducing eye glare or in temperature regulation has barely moved beyond anecdotal stages of investigation. Sexual dichromatism is limited in this taxon and its basis is unclear. Astonishingly, the functional significance of pelage coloration in most large charismatic black and white mammals that were new to science 150 years ago still remains a mystery.