Why Are Pandas Black and White?


Researchers discovered the mystery behind pandas’ black and white pattern

For many years, biologists have been wondering what is the purpose of the specific black and white pattern on the fur of pandas. Now, scientists from the University of California, Davis, and California State University, Long Beach, discovered that these distinctive patterns have not only one, but two functions.

Usually, patterns on animals’ fur and certain colors present on their coats have a specific purpose. If we look at zebras or Arctic foxes, for example, we can understand why foxes are white and why zebras have stripes. However, biologists could not find an explanation for the black and white pattern specific to pandas until now.

The scientists from California started this study and discovered two purposes of a panda’s coat of fur. Pandas use their black and white markings for camouflage and for communication. Tim Caro, researcher at the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis said that biologists had always wondered why pandas had those black spots on white fur.

Pandas are the only mammals with such a striking coloration, so biologists had no other animals to compare them to in an attempt to find answers. This is why they took each part of a panda’s body individually and see what it might serve for.

They compared each patch of a panda’s fur with the coloration of other 195 carnivore species and of 39 bear subspecies. Then, they matched each region to various behavioral or ecological variables and they tried to find their purpose.

Thus, they discovered that the white areas (face, neck, belly, and rump) are meant to match snowy environments. Then, they matched the black parts of a panda’s body to hiding in the shade. Thus, the pattern on the panda’s body is meant for camouflage.

The markings on the face have a different purpose. They play a role in communication. The dark ears can send a warning to predators and convey a sense of ferocity, while the dark eyes can help them recognize each other or signal aggression to competitors.

Such a discovery required quite a big effort from the research team. It took them hundreds of hours to analyze and compare thousands of images and then score many areas in only one picture by choosing from more than 20 possible colors. Now, they found the answer to the question about pandas that kept bugging us for years.
Image Source: Flickr