Spotted lions, semi-mythical beasts and the subject of cryptozoological inquiry, have been discussed here at WEIT before, but the spotted lions here are not mythical at all, because they are cubs.
Lion cubs, as we’ve also discussed before here at WEIT, are born spotted, and retain some spots for up to two years or so, but eventually lose them as they mature. The controversy about spotted lions is whether adult spotted lions (only a single individual has ever been collected) form a distinct species or subspecies, or just a (very) rare pattern variation. There’s a bit of a controversy about the cubs’ spotting as well– Jerry, agreeing with the foremost student of animal coloration, Hugh B. Cott, thinks the spots are atavistic, while I think they are likely adaptively concealing.
These two lions are father and son. The son is 23 months old.
Note that at 23 months, the cub is nearly as big as his father, and has lost most, if not all, of the juvenile spotting earlier noted by Jerry. In the full size photo, there’s the slightest hint of some spotting remaining on his right thigh.
Having been thinking about the taxonomic distribution and adaptive significance (if any) of spots and stripes, I recalled that my cat, Peyton (see here and here), had some pattern elements quite reminiscent of tigers (beyond being a tiger tabby– the “tiger” stripes of tabby cats are not very like the stripes of tigers). So I went to the Racine Zoo to look at the tiger.
The particular pattern element that seemed tiger-like was the striping on the inside of her legs, which is not well seen on the tiger here. I was more intrigued by the fact that along the back, some of the stripes of the tiger form rosette-like ovals (rosettes are found in leopards, jaguars, and young lions), which can be seen in this photo (blurred by the glass keeping me and the tiger separated).
My local newspaper, along with many other news outlets, had a story this morning about a chimp at a zoo in Sweden who collects and stores rocks that he later uses for throwing at zoo visitors. The major point of the article was that the chimp made plans for something he was going to do in the future. This didn’t seem like news to me; I’d heard stories of great apes doing things that seemed to involve at least as much planning. I asked my friend, Eric Hileman, formerly Director of Animal Welfare and Conservation Education at the Racine Zoo in Racine, Wisconsin, and now a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, if he knew of apes planning for the future. He told me that the Zoo’s orangutans did so. They would occasionally get hold of some item that a keeper had inadvertently left behind, or that had rolled under a door, such as a pencil or screw. They would then conceal the item, either in their enclosure or on themselves. Later, the item would be produced by the orang, and shown to the keeper, but not returned. If the keeper would offer a snack, then the item would be returned to the keeper in exchange for the food. Holding on to the item for use in bartering for food in the future, rather than attempting an immediate exchange, seems like planning to me, although these were not planned behavioral experiments that might exclude other interpretations. He also mentioned a story he’d heard of an orang getting hold of a set of keys, and then secreting them away until the keeper had left, but this is a third or fourth hand story.
Having a temporal sense of events is something that I could not see in my considerations of the moral sense of my cat Peyton. It seems a major advance in cognition, and also in the development of a full (rather than merely rudimentary) moral sense, allowing for retribution, admiration, gratitude, and reciprocity.