Biologists discover why Pandas are black and white

Panda clinging to a branch piled with snow

The panda’s distinctive black-and-white fur makes it one of the most recognizable animals on the planet. But why does it have this unique colouring? Panda patterns serve as a combination of communication and camouflage, say biologists.

The white parts of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) help it hide in the snow, while its black arms and legs help it hide in the shadows.
It’s possible that the panda’s colouration is a result of its restricted diet. Because pandas get little nutrition and calories from eating bamboo, they can’t store enough fat to hibernate during the winter. So they must stay active year-round, wandering long distances and across different habitats — from snowy mountains to tropical forests — to find more bamboo. As the giant panda is unable to moult sufficiently rapidly to match each background, it has evolved a compromise white and black fur.

The bear’s black ears may help express aggression as a warning to predators. And its dark eye patches may help pandas recognize each other.

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