Why are giant pandas black and white? Here’s how we found out

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IUnlike many flamboyant species of birds, most of the 5,000 species of mammals are dark brown or gray in color. But there are some well-known and interesting exceptions – notably zebras, skunks and orcas.

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However, perhaps the most famous, are the giant pandas. We already had a preliminary idea why they had markings but wanted to confirm the reason for its mysterious pattern.

Seen up close in a zoo, the giant panda is an attractive, distinctive mix of a white bear with an extraordinary face with black forearms, shoulders and hind legs, and black fur around the eyes and ears. By comparing these individual body parts with other carnivores (contrary to popular belief, officially classified as carnivores) and bears, we already knew that white-backed carnivores live in icy environments. are found and those whose legs are dark in color. Shoulders are found in shady habitats. This suggested that the fur was an adaptation for camouflage in different environments.

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Nowadays, giant pandas are confined to isolated forests in western China, where there are relatively few predators. But we needed to confirm that camouflage was effective against former predators of the giant panda: tigers, leopards, Asiatic black bears and dholes (a wild dog) from the days they were in Vietnam across China.

Success came when we joined forces with colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yong-Gang Nei and Fu Wen Wei. They work with giant pandas in the field and had rare pictures of giant pandas in the wild. Importantly, the photographs were taken at a distance in their natural habitat.

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We used state-of-the-art image analysis to demonstrate that the unique colors actually serve to hide the giant panda.

By matching the reflectance (the amount of light reflected) from the giant panda’s fur with the natural objects in the background, we found that their dark fur patches blend in with darker colors and with tree trunks, while their white patches blend with brighter foliage and Match the snow. , Also, at times, the pale brown fur of muddy color matches the color of the ground. It provides an intermediate color that bridges the gap between very dark and very light visual elements in the natural habitat.


When in the wild and at a distance, our research shows that they are beautifully camouflaged, using two different mechanisms to evade detection.

These results are consistent whether observed by humans, feline or canine vision models. The visual systems of the domestic dog and cat are well known and are good surrogates for the visual systems of natural predators such as the giant panda, such as tigers and wild dogs.

Next, we examined another form of camouflage – called disruptive coloring – in which highly visible patches on an animal break up its outline by blending with patches in the background.

We found that giant pandas show this form of defensive coloring, especially when viewed from at least 60 yards away. At these distances, the outline of the giant panda becomes difficult to identify as the black fur patches blend into the background of dark rocks and tree trunks.

Finally, we used a novel color-mapping technique to compare how well different animals, including the giant panda, merge into their backgrounds. This comparative analysis confirmed that the background similarity of the giant panda fell solidly within the group of other species, which are traditionally considered to be very well camouflaged, right next to the shore crabs and jerboas (desert rodents).

So, although giant pandas are highly conspicuous to us in zoos or other captive settings, it is because we see them surrounded and surrounded by artificial backgrounds, but when in the wild and at some distance, our research shows that they are beautiful. Camouflage from are using two different mechanisms to evade detection.

Giant pandas are a much-loved species and, thanks to extraordinary conservation efforts, are now doing well in the wild. The future of this species is therefore cautiously optimistic.

Tim Caro is Professor at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol. Nick Scott-Samuel is Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol. Ossi Nokelainen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Jvskyl, Finland. This article first appeared on Conversation,

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Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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