It’s black and white: Scientists finally work out secrets behind giant panda colours

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A team of scientists from Britain, China and Finland has uncovered the secret of the giant panda being black and white, a question that has puzzled experts for generations.

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While the bear’s distinctive high-contrast coloration means they stand out in the unnatural surroundings of a city zoo where most humans encounter them, the contrasting color of their fur actually plays a counterintuitive but important defensive role in mountain forests. where they normally live, the new study found.

“The giant panda uses black-and-white pelage as a form of crypsis to avoid detection in its natural habitat,” scientists from the University of Bristol, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Jyvskyl wrote in the academic journal. scientific report, concluding that the combined extremities allow them to camouflage themselves more effectively against different aspects of a given background, enabling them to avoid fearless predators such as leopards, tigers and dholes (Asian wild dogs). Help comes.


“Black fur blends into darker colors and tree trunks, while white fur matches foliage and snow, and intermediate pelage tones match rocks and ground,” the team wrote.

The versatility of the color of their fur also seems to confuse perceptions of their morphology, making it more difficult for opponents to determine their exact shape, and perhaps to discourage an attack.

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Previously proposed alternative explanations for the unique coloration of pandas include intraspecific signaling, heat management, and apoptoticism (inhibiting rivals), but it appears that background matching is the most likely answer for survival.

The team’s findings were based on examining photographs of 15 different pandas taken between 2007 and 2014 in the moist and remote forests of south central China in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, which were analyzed against forests, rocks and rivers. which has a fragmented background. of those places.

Dr Ossi Nokelainen, lead author of the study, said: “The rare photographic evidence allowed us to investigate the presence of giant pandas in their natural environment for the first time.

“With the aid of state-of-the-art image analysis, we were able to treat these images as if pandas would have been seen by their predatory surrogates using vision modeling techniques applied and detecting their disruptive coloration.

“The comparative results completely bust the myth of the giant panda being apparently distinct in its natural habitat.”

Professor Tim Caro, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, commented: “I knew we were onto something when our Chinese colleagues sent us pictures from the wild and I couldn’t see the giant panda in the picture.

“If I couldn’t see it with my good intimate eyes, it meant carnivorous hunters wouldn’t be able to see it even with their low vision. It was just a matter of displaying it objectively.”

Professor Nick Scott-Samuel from Bristol also said: “From a more realistic hunter’s point of view, the giant panda is camouflaged really well.”


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