U.S. Scientists Crack the Mystery Behind Giant Pandas’ Fur Color

Sleepy giant panda lying on a bridge

Why is the giant panda black and white? California researchers think they have the answer.

U.S. researchers think they know why giant pandas are colored in black and white. According to their findings published in the Behavioral Ecology, their fur’s color pattern has something to do with staying safe from predators and communication.

Giant pandas feed only on bamboo shots and because they don’t reproduce as frequently as other bear species they landed on the endangered species list decades ago. Fortunately, last year, they were deemed no longer endangered.

U.S. researchers at the California State University, Long Beach, had to analyze 39 bear species and 195 species of carnivorous mammals before they could find an answer to the pandas’ unique fur color patterns. Scientists learned that since pandas do not hibernate in winter they need to camouflage themselves from predators.

So the white color is to help them blend in in the snowy environments, while the back spots on their years are meant to make them look more aggressive in the face of possible predators. The trademark black eye patches enables them to be identified by their fellow species members. Researchers also think that the unique color patterns help them look more attractive to their mating partners.

The only other animals with a black and white coloring are zebras. In previous research, scientists had though that the zebra stripes were designed to camouflage them from predators in the Savannah. Recent research showed that this assumption was wrong. The stripes, in fact, protects the animals against irritating flies.

The research team said they didn’t find any other theories for the panda’s unique fur patterns, so the latest explanation could be final. Other hypotheses they tested during their research was lowering eye glare and temperature regulation. Yet, these two theories did not hold water.

Study authors noticed that while the fur of pandas is slightly lighter during winter time, there was no link between the dark eye patches and variations in environment brightness. This suggests that the coloring was not a defense against the sun as some research had indicated.

The research team said that they analyzed thousands of photos, and scored around 10 areas of an animal’s body by testing 20 possible colors. Co-author Ted Stankowich from the CSU, Long Beach, said the research team invested hundreds of hours in a simple question: Why is the panda black and white?
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