Quirks and Quarks·Quirks & Quarks

Why are pandas black and white?

A new theory suggests it has to do with camouflage.
Giant pandas, like these cubs, compromise when it comes to their black and white colour patches. (Toronto Zoo)

Scientists have had a difficult time in the past trying to understand why giant pandas are black and white because there isn't anything like them for comparison. 

Dr. Tim Caro, a wildlife biologist at the University of California Davis thinks he's figured out why they have the colouring they do.  The giant panda is black and white because of an evolutionary compromise related to its nutritionally poor diet.  Because the panda lives mostly on bamboo, it doesn't store enough fat to enable it to go into torpor or hibernate like other bears.

The panda must therefore be able to forage year round in both the snow of the mountains, and in the shade of subtropical rainforests. The white fur enables camouflage from predators in the snow, while the black fur provides protection in the shade.  The study also suggests that the panda's black ears are a sign of ferocity, and the eye patches may help them recognize each other.     

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