The distinct black and white markings of the pandas have two important functions, namely camouflage and communication. The scientists found out that the white color is to help the panda in hiding out when they are in snowy habitats, and the black part are to help him hiding out in the shade.
The same scientists who uncovered the reason behind the zebra’s black and white stripes (to repel the flies), made a study on pandas, which was published in the journal Behavioral Ecology. This study was a collaboration between the University of California, Davis, and California State University, Long Beach, and determined the functions of the panda’s characteristic black and white markings.
“Understanding why the giant panda has such striking coloration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been difficult to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies difficult”, said lead author Tim Caro, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. “The breakthrough in the study was treating each part of the body as an independent area”.
Thanks to this approach, the team was able to compare different regions of fur to the light colors of 195 other carnivore species, and 39 bear subspecies. After that, they tried to match the dark parts to various ecological and behavioral variables to find out their function.
The scientists think the markings are there because of their faulty diet bamboo and the inability to digest a bigger variety of plants, and because of this, they just don’t have enough fat to hibernate during the winters, so as they stay awake, they travel through huge distances, and across different habitats from mountains to tropical forests.
And the markings on the head, are not used as a camouflage, but rather to communicate, as the dark ears for example, can help convey a sense of ferocity, keeping the predators away, and the dark eye patches, probably help them distinguish between each other, or simply to signal dominance to other pandas.