Why Are Pandas Black And White?

Posted: Mar 4 2017, 8:59am CST | by , Updated: Mar 4 2017, 9:09am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Why are Pandas Black and White?
Photo Credit: Getty Images

New study determines two main functions of giant panda's distinct black and white markings

For many years, researchers have been trying to solve the mystery of why pandas have black and white pattern. Many theories have been put forward about their iconic black and white fur but there is no definitive explanation so far.

In a new study, researchers have determined that the giant panda's black-and-white pattern has two functions - camouflage and communication.

“Understanding why the giant panda has such striking coloration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been difficult to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies difficult.” Lead author Tim Caro, a professor from University of California, Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, said in a statement.

For this breakthrough study, researchers adopted a creative method. They decided to treat each part of the panda’s body as an independent area and compared lighter and darker tones of its different regions with 195 carnivore species as well as 39 relevant bear species. Then, they determined the function of the each area while taking into account various ecological and behavioral variables.

Through these comparisons, researchers have found that the panda’s face, neck, belly and rump have white color in order to provide it protection from predators. White color help pandas hide in snow, while the black arms and legs allow them to hide in shade.

Since pandas eat nothing but bamboo, their stomachs don’t stay full over a long period of time. Bamboo contains very little nutritious value, which means panda cannot store enough fat to stay dormant during the winter, as do some bears. So, they have to be active year-round, travelling across the distance and different habitats ranging from snowy mountains to tropical forests in search of their food. The poor diet is likely responsible for their all year long traveling.

The patches on head, however, are not used to camouflage, but rather to communicate. Their darker eyes may convey a sense of warning to predators while the rings around their eyes help them recognize each other.

“This really was a Herculean effort by our team, finding and scoring thousands of images and scoring more than 10 areas per picture from over 20 possible colors,” said co-author Ted Stankowich, a professor from California State University, Long Beach. “Sometimes, it takes hundreds of hours of hard work to answer what seems like the simplest of questions: why is the panda black and white?”

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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