Why the giant panda is black and white

NITI TANGPAITOON

The researchers realized that, unlike some other types of bears, pandas have to be active year-round without hibernation.

When the zebra mystery finally closed, it was only natural to move on to the next black and white creature in the animal kingdom.

"Understanding why the giant panda has such striking colouration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been hard to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies hard", said Tim Caro, a professor at the University of California, Davis in the U.S, according to PTI.

Scientists have revealed that the black and white markings on giant pandas serve two functions: camouflage and communication.

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It's a question that has bedeviled kindergartners, and now apparently PhDs have the answer: Why do giant pandas have spots? According to a new study the giant panda's distinct black and white markings are there to serve two functions, namely, camouflage and communication. To find out, a team of California researchers compared the black and white regions of the panda's fur to more than 200 other species, and then analyzed those findings in relation to environmental and behavioral conditions, Science reports. They pulled apart the pandas unique patterns and matched these patterns with a similar patterned animal. Even North American black bears, whose name belies their true variations, keep to blacks or brown shades, with a just a handful of those bears sporting dirty white or bluish-gray coats.

What they found is that the panda's face, neck, belly, and rump - the white parts - help it hide in snowy habitats. The scarceness of bamboo, the only food pandas are capable of digesting, means that pandas need to be able to cross a wide range of habitats in search of a meal, from dense, warm rainforests to snowy, mountainous regions.

The team said the ability to hide itself is necessary for the giant panda since, unlike other bear species that hibernate, the panda never stores enough fat due to its strict bamboo diet, so it has to stay out and about - and vulnerable to predators - during winter. "Stay away!" - while the circles around the eyes may be used as identifying markers among pandas. Pandas are very sweet and seem playful. Their dark ears help them appear risky to predators, while their eyes appear to help them recognise one another: "Dark ears may be involved with signalling intent about ferocity whereas dark eye marks may serve in individual recognition", the team wrote.

"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", added co-author Ted Stankowich, an assistant professor at CSU Long Beach.

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