Subtle and multifaceted adaptive colouration in the largest wild ruminant in South America: the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), part 1

(For my account of the vicuna, please see

The colouration in the guanaco (Lama guanicoe, is simple in the sense that it does not vary with sex or age. Males, females, juveniles, and infants all share the same colouration.

However, the patterns are difficult to describe, because

  • the species is neither plain-coloured nor conspicuously patterned in an unambivalent and consistent way,
  • subspecies remain poorly-defined, and
  • there is considerable variation among individuals and populations, beyond a recognisable north-south cline.

Conspicuous features of adaptive colouration, in mammals including the guanaco, may be noticeably dark, noticeably pale, or both together in the form of dark/pale contrast.


The following is a reminder of the degree of conspicuousness of a lateral bleeze: Eudorcas thomsoni

In the guanaco, the pale of the ventral surface of the torso extends too high on the flanks to function merely as countershading.

This is true particularly for the posterior flank, on which the depigmented tract almost reaches the back/rump ( and and and and and

An advantage of the placement of the pale tract on the posterior flank is that the feature is conspicuous not only in profile but also in

The following photo might not have been worth taking, were it not for the postulated lateral bleeze (

The following shows the maximal extent of pale on the flanks of the guanaco:

However, for the species overall, the feature in question does not necessarily qualify as a bleeze.

This is because some populations, particularly in Peru/northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, tend to lack the pale tract ( and and and and and and and and and and


The following is a reminder of the degree conspicuousness of a facial bleeze: Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi

A facial flag is less conspicuous than the above, but becomes conspicuousness when moved.

(For a description of laryngeal and auricular flags, please see

The head of the guanaco tends to have dark aspects and pale aspects, in some cases in combination.

The face of the guanaco, unlike that of the vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), tends to be somewhat dark ( and and and and

Furthermore, there tends to be a pale, possibly sheeny streak from the crook of the throat to, and including, the ear pinnae ( and and and and and and and and

Of thousands of photos of the guanaco on the Web, the following shows a hypothetical facial/laryngeal flag most clearly (

However, the darkness on the face is one of the most variable aspects of colouration in the guanaco, both regionally and individually. Furthermore, even more than in the vicuna (, the pallor on the side of the posterior part of the face is so small-scale ( that its effectiveness as a conspicuous feature is questionable.


Please see

The inner surfaces of the legs are so extensively and uniformly whitish in the guanaco that this far exceeds countershading ( and and and

This suggests that the whitish inner surface of the upper hindleg, in particular, functions as a flag during walking ( and


The following is a reminder of the degree of conspicuousness of a posterior bleeze (Dama dama

In the guanaco, the buttocks, and the posterior surfaces of the forelegs, tend to be pale ( and

This is partly because the short pelage as well as the associated visible skin of the buttocks are depigmented - unlike the somewhat pigmented bare skin of the perineal area, around anus and vulva (see second photo in

Furthermore, in those populations and individuals in which the pelage on the tail is dark, there is some degree of dark/pale contrast on the posterior aspect of the figure (

The pattern on the buttocks of the guanaco is usually more conspicuous than that in the vicuna (

However, it is questionable whether this qualifies as a bleeze, even in the case of the guanaco.

This is because


The following is a reminder of the degree of conspicuousness of a frontal bleeze: Vicugna vicugna mensalis

In the guanaco, there are two features, on the front of the figure, that potentially function as large-scale advertisement (

These are pale surfaces

A difference between the guanaco and the vicuna is that the anterior surface of the neck is pale only in the former species.

The upright orientation of the long neck of the guanaco ( makes it unlikely that this pale pelage functioning as countershading. Therefore, the real function may be to make the figure conspicuous.

Furthermore, the pale pelage on the neck is long enough that the conspicuousness applies also under backlit illumination ( and and and and and and

However, it is questionable whether the guanaco qualifies as possessing a frontal bleeze.

This is because


There is an intriguing aspect of the anatomy of the guanaco, located at the abdomen ('inguinal'), near the elbow ('axillary'), on the buttocks, and on the ventral surface of the tail.

This is

  • the sharp differentiation of long pelage from apparently bare skin, and
  • the difference between the pale skin of groin, buttocks, and tail and the dark skin of the perineum.

The main function of the pale, apparently bare skin (which also seems to occur on the inner surface of the upper forelegs) seems to be thermoregulation, rather than display by means of colouration.

When the animal stands under normal conditions, the panels of apparently bare skin are 'closed', by virtue of

However, when the slight hunching of the torso is relaxed, what becomes visible is the clear distinction between the ventral pelage and the apparently bare skin,

These apparently bare surfaces presumably function to regulate body heat, via perspiration ( and and and and radiation. In cold weather, the apparently bare panels can be covered, mainly by postural adjustments including the 'clamping' of the tail.

Few ungulates on Earth possess this mechanism, which may be related to the unusually narrow 'waist' of camelids ( and

At first glance, there is little remarkable about the pale tract on the abdomen in the following ( and

However, on closer scrutiny it can be seen that there is a considerable area of pale, apparently bare skin. There is another, similar but smaller, patch of pale, apparently bare skin just posterior to the elbow.

From the viewpoint of colouration:
A remarkable aspect of this anatomical configuration is that the skin is so depigmented that, even when maximally exposed, it does not detract from the conspicuous pallor of the flanks ( and and and and

to be continued in

Publicado el febrero 14, 2023 04:22 TARDE por milewski milewski



Shift, in illustration of plain colouration of face of Puma concolor in allopatry with other large carnivores:

In North America, Puma concolor has a boldly-marked face (, which possibly serves as warning colouration ( on a continent where this felid is threatened by Canis lupus and Ursus arctos.

In remote southern South America, some individuals lack this facial colouration, which perhaps represents a relaxation of the warning colouration in the absence of this threat.

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

Noteworthy and puzzling aspect of colouration in Vicugna vicugna vicugna:

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año
Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

Vicugna vicugna vicugna, showing that the front of the neck is not as pale as either the base of the neck or the cheeks:

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

Whereas the conspicuous pale on the chest of the guanaco extends up the front of the neck, that of Vicugna vicugna vicugna extends upwards instead at the junction of the neck and the shoulders:

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

The pale, apparently bare skin on the ventral half of the buttocks ( and third photo in differs from that on the abdomen ('inguinal'), behind the elbow ('axillary'), and on the ventral surface of the tail, in lacking any obvious blanketing mechanism.

However, when the guanaco adopts a posture of sternal recumbency ( and, the aforementioned skin of the buttocks can be covered by the lower hindleg (

This works partly because, unlike deer and bovids of similar body size (, the hindlegs are folded completely and symmetrically (in the sense of left and right) in camelids.

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

The pale features on the head, neck, and posterior flanks of the guanaco can be conspicuous even when the figure is lying (in a posture of sternal recumbency):

Publicado por milewski hace más de 1 año

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