Thursday, 19 October, 2017

Today we learned: Why Giant Pandas have black and white spots

NITI TANGPAITOON NITI TANGPAITOON
Garry Little | 07 March, 2017, 00:22

"Understanding why the giant panda has such striking colouration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been hard to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies hard", said Tim Caro, a professor at the University of California, Davis in the U.S, according to PTI.

Researchers have gone to extreme lengths to answer one seemingly simple question - why is the giant panda black and white? He made a compelling case that zebras evolved stripes as a defense against biting flies in a book published in December, and has also investigated the colors of skunks and coconut crabs.

Aside from turning grown-ups into cooing blubbering mushes, what objective do those cartoon-animal black and white patches serve?

The team then matched the darkness of these regions to various ecological and behavioural variables to understand their function.

Despite the roller-coaster ride concerning its endangered species status, the giant panda continues to be a subject of interest of scientists, who are concerned, among other things, about decoding the language or verbal cues the species use in the wild.

After analysing the data, researchers concluded that eyes, ears, hands and legs of panda are dark to help it hide in the shade while face, belly, rump and neck are white to help it hide in the snow. Now, the same team of researchers that figured out why zebra have their stripes are proposing an explanation for pandas' unique markings.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and California State University (CSU), Long Beach, compared different regions of the giant panda's body to the coloring of 195 carnivore species and 39 related bear subspecies, according to a statement by the University of California, Davis.

The study suggests that dual colouration helps them in their year-round travel across different habitat types, "from snowy mountains, to tropical forests". Scientists had earlier thought that zebras have two colors to camouflage from predators, but new research found this belief to be erroneous.

However, the study says pandas' head markings do not provide camouflage and instead aid communication.

What's fascinating is that the giant panda requires this convertible camouflage in the first place - for which we can thank the bear's taste for bamboo.

With its trademark patches of black and white fur, there's no mistaking the giant panda for any other bear.

This effectively means that they can never store enough fat to go dormant during the winter, as do some bears. But there were few relationships between eye markings and an environment's brightness - which is to suggest that dark patches around the panda eyes did not come about as a defense to the sun along the lines of National Football League eyeblack. "Dark ears may help convey a sense of ferocity, a warning to predators", the study notes.

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