Why Are Pandas Distinctively Black and White?

Giant pandas have always captured our imagination.  Their distinctive coloration certainly gives a new meaning to the word cute.   But why are they colored that way?

A new study, published February 28, 2017 in Behavioral Ecology, suggests two reasons — camouflage and communication.

Tim Caro, a professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at University of California/Davis and the study’s lead author,  said in a statement

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. The breakthrough in the study was treating each part of the body as an independent area.

The team compared different regions of the panda’s fur to the dark and light coloring of 195 other carnivore species and 39 bear subspecies.  Then they tried to match the darkness of the fur regions to various ecological and behavioral variables to determine their function.  They found that most of the panda is white to help it hide in snow.  The arms and legs are black to help it hide in shade.  The scientists think this dual coloration comes from the panda’s poor diet of bamboo and inability to digest a broader variety of plants.  So they can never store enough fat to go dormant during the winter.  Consequently, a panda has to be active year-round, traveling across long distances and habitat types.

But on the other hand, the markings on the panda’s head are not used to hide from predators but to communicate.  Dark ears may help convey ferocity and a warning to predators.  Their dark eye patches may help them recognize each other or signal aggression toward competitors.

Of course, the only way to know for sure would be to ask a panda.

The complete article is at  http://earthsky.org/earth/why-pandas-are-black-and-white? .  The photos came from that article.

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