Why giant pandas are black and white

Researchers further added that dark coloured ears also help panda in conveying a sense of ferocity, a warning to predators while black eye patches help in showing aggression towards other competitor species.

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.

For some time now, biologists have been trying to unlock the secrets behind the panda's black and white fur.

"Understanding why the giant panda has such striking coloration 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", says lead author Tim Caro from the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology.

According to the study authors, the giant panda has such unique colour combination for two purposes - camouflage and communication.

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.

Giant chinese panda Ai Bao rests at Everland amusement park on April 7, 2016 in Yongin, South Korea.


Researchers have gone to extreme lengths to answer one seemingly simple question - why is the giant panda black and white? This enabled them to compare different regions of fur across the body to the dark and light colouring of 195 carnivore species and 39 bear subspecies, to which the giant panda is related. "The breakthrough in the study was treating each part of the body as an independent area".

More compelling was a 2008 study in which two young pandas identified subtle differences in artificial eye-mask patterns. Since pandas don't hibernate like their bear cousins, the team ruled out that color helps regulate body temperature.

The researchers believe that the dual colouration in Pandas occurs due to the vegetarian diet that relies heavily on bamboo shoots and their inability to digest any other plant. This means it can never store enough fat to go dormant during the winter, as do some bears.

The white fur helps them hide away in snowy habitats during the winter months.

Through these comparisons, the study found that white helped them hide in snowy habitats. They had earlier revealed the reason behind stripes of zebra. The black coloring on its arms and legs helps it stay hidden in the shady forests.

However, their eye and ear markings serve the objective of communication.

Researchers went through thousands of images and studied a minimum of 20 colors over more than 10 areas of the animal's body.

  • Joey Payne