panda black and white
December 22, 2020

Why is the giant panda black and white?

4 min read

Why are pandas black and white?

While Beauval Zoo saw the birth of a small panda in early August 2017, what are the large black spots behind the panda's eyes for? It is said to be a way to dissuade competitors from getting too close.

One less mystery! Researchers would have deciphered the two-colored coat of the giant panda. This one would be used to them at the same time to camouflage and communicate. The origins of this constellation of black spots on its fur will have given the scientific community a hard time because no other mammal shares its characteristics. Until 2017, when these scientists - who had previously focused on the striped coat of zebras - proposed their approach to the scientific world. But this one is atypical, instead of looking at the coat as a whole, each area was studied independently. And for each one, they compared it with light and dark hairs from other carnivorous species and subspecies of bears? While analyzing them in relation to the behavior and environment of the panda in order to determine their function. 

Are pandas endangered

The immaculate part of this ursida would allow it to camouflage itself in the snow while the black shoulders and legs to hide in the shadows of the forests. Studies deduce in particular from his habits: his poor diet - bamboo shoots - does not allow him to store fat and therefore hibernate like other bears. He must therefore be active in all seasons to look for food, roaming from the alpine mountains in winter to the tropical forests in summer ... And this without changing its down jacket like some species such as the ermine and the polar fox which have an outfit for each season. Hence this compromise of coat allowing it to blend into any decor. And you will have guessed it, it is not to better catch bamboo but to protect itself from predators. Because despite its imposing size (up to 125 kg and 1.80 meters) it is hunted by other bears and wild dogs.

How Do Pandas Communicate

 

How do giant pandas communicate with each other

It's another story for the make-up of this plantigrade mammal which would be a means of identification and communication, several questions concerning « how do pandas communicate »  naturally arise such as: 

  • How do pandas communicate with one another,
  • How do pandas communicate with humans,
  • How do pandas communicate with other spices

For eye shadow, several elements attest to this hypothesis: this marking is particularly present in diurnal carnivores, justifying for researchers a communicating role. Moreover, there is a great diversity in the forms of these spots, diverging in particular between males and females. Finally, the behaviour of pandas: in previous work it had been observed that pandas could attack certain congeners and remember them 6 to 12 months later... And as a sign of appeasement, they would cover the eyes with their legs or hide the head. So the pandas could recognize each other by this means and probably send aggressive signals to each other between competitors.

As for the ears, researchers have associated the dark side with rather aggressive species... What the panda is. Hence the suggestion that they might be involved in predator intimidation. Moreover, the role of black ears and eyes being often associated in carnivores, researchers do not exclude the possibility that the ears act by mimicry with the eyes. One research had indeed established that when pandas are facing another animal, they lower their neck. From this position, it would give an effect of two pairs of threatening eyes in contrast to this immaculate neck.

 

 

The different functions of the giant panda's fur 

The end of a long-term debate about pandas black and white colors?

What to think of this mosaic of explanations? There is some speculation in the interpretation of the results of the work carried out. However, it is not so surprising that it requires multiple justifications. We do not know when these 'patterns' appeared. We have no fossil record of these peeling characteristics, so their history is difficult to trace. All we know is that cousins of the giant panda have been present over a much larger geographical area, including Thailand Vietnam, and even one species existed in Europe. And in any case, coat "patterns" cannot always be explained by a single function. Another element, explaining the difficulty in deciphering the recognition and communication system of pandas: "Our vision is trichromatic, that is to say that it is based on 3 different types of cones, whereas that of carnivores is dichromatic. This means that some signals that are clearly visible to them in black and white contrast are not as visible to us".

In any case, this analysis has shown some explanations of this black and white coloring. In particular the one that attributed to it a temperature regulating role like the zebras. Researchers have indeed found no thermal adaptation to its climate. It is the same for the dark contours that would protect the eyes from the sun's rays. Since pandas are as active day and night, the researchers found it difficult to see how this could be a way to reduce the brightness as it is for other species. Finally, more anecdotally, they put an end to the Sino-Tibetan legend that pandas were once white. And that it was following the death of a villager that they had smeared their legs with ashes as a sign of mourning - in accordance with Chinese custom - before intertwining to console themselves, rubbing their eyes to dry their tears and on their ears to no longer hear the laments of grief ...

 


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