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Scientists Answer the Age-Old Question: Why Are Pandas Black and White?

Mar 03, 2017 12:20 PM EST
Giant Panda
The pandas strange coloring help them stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom, but what is the scientific explanation behind it?
(Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

The panda, arguably the most popular type of bear, is striking with signature coloring of black and white. Black spots masking the eyes plus black limbs and ears on the bear's white face and body -- the monochromatic coloring is not only adorable, but unique in the animal kingdom. So to what do they owe this strange color combination? Scientists offer an answer in a paper published recently in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

According to a report from Science Magazine, pandas may have evolved their black and white fur for camoflage. Their white markings help the bears hide in snowy environments, while the black markings help them hide in the forest when they want to avoid predator attacks. The combination of the two is some kind of compromise.

However, their patches on the face serve a different purpose than camoflage. The contrasting hues on the face and their black ears help the pandas communicate their ferocity and aggression to other animals. Meanwhile, their signature black eye patches help them recognize each other as these often vary from one panda to another. When they want to appear less aggressive, pandas use their paws to cover their eyes.

The researchers came to their conclusions after using a comparative phylogenetic approach, according to a report from IFLScience. They compared the panda to the coat colors and patterns of 195 other carnivore species among 39 bear subspecies, then observed these in relation to their habitats and social behavior.

There have been many suggestions to find the reason behind the strange markings of panda bears. Some have brought up temperature regulation and protecting the eyes from harsh sunlight. However, in this study, the researchers didn't find any connections between the color of the bear's fur and the temperture or sunlight.

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