Researchers Explain Why Pandas Are Of Two Different Colors And The Reason Is A Little Sad


Pandas have a distinctive black and white pattern that sets them apart from other bears. Scientists were trying to determine why the panda has such a different pattern and it seems that it is because of the lengths the cute animal has to go to get enough food. The colors that exist in nature always have some special significance. In the animal kingdom these colors can work as a camouflage, warning to predators, attracting factor for mates etc.

Pandas and their colors

Biologists often compare similar colored species occupying similar niches in the environment. This helps them determine why an animal is colored the way it is. In spite of being in different locations of the world, leopards (Africa and Asia) and jaguars (Americas) have similar spots that cover their bodies. These spots serve in breaking up their outlines when they stalk their prey.

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I am sure you have sensed the problem by now. Pandas are so unique in their coloring that it has been rather difficult in determining a link. Don’t get me wrong but black spots and stripes exist across the kingdom but combinations of eye-spots, dark ears, black ‘shirts’ and ‘stockings’ is very rare. So what the researchers from University of California, Davis, and California State University, Long Beach did is very different. They pulled apart the pandas unique patterns and matched these patterns with a similar patterned animal. Tim Caro from UC Davis explained, “The breakthrough in the study was treating each part of the body as an independent area”.

Method and result of study

The team used 39 bear species in their research as well as another 195 species of carnivore. They paid close attention to these animals and tried determining what caused the specific coloration. Researchers went through thousands of images and studied a minimum of 20 colors over more than 10 areas of the animal’s body. According to researcher Ted Stankowich, "Sometimes it takes hundreds of hours of hard work to answer what seems like the simplest of questions: Why is the panda black and white?"

If things are observed from this point of view it can be said that the panda has two colors so that it can blend into two different environments. Pandas rely heavily on a vegetarian diet (bamboo shoots) which may be plentiful in their habitat but it isn’t exactly the easiest meal to digest. The pandas deal with this lack of digestion by limiting their movement. Now when you look at a panda, it may seem that the poor animal is fat but unfortunately the panda still cannot store enough fat to get them through the harsh winter months. So pandas need to find food even in the winters unlike other animals that hibernate.

Their white heads and bellies help them blend in with the icy background to avoid becoming the prey of snow leopards and jackals. The dark color of their arms and legs on the hand helps them hide among the shadows of tropical bamboo groves in the summers. The researchers are guessing that the eyes and the ears may serve as a signal of aggression. A few years back the same team had argued that the stripes on zebra confused flying insects and hence protecting the animal from biting flies.

This is not the final word on why the panda is black and white but it does open doors for further discussion on the matter.