Giant pandas have the scientific community's attention not only because of the animal's cuteness but because it has been on the endangered species list for the past decade.
Only having been removed in September 2016 — when its population finally increased by 17 percent between 2004 and 2014 — pandas are still considered vulnerable. China, however, disagrees with the removal.
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.
Some believe that giant pandas are on the endangered species list because of their lack of survival instincts, making them an easy target for predators — humans included.
But a study deconstructing the species' unique coloration proves that the giant panda has some form of survival mechanism, though it is not aggressive.
Why Giant Pandas?
Prior to investigating the giant panda's unique fur pattern, University of California Davis Wildlife Biology Professor Tim Caro first studied why zebras have black and white stripes and how the unique pattern actually benefits the animals. Just to answer that question, Caro determined that zebra patterns help keep biting flies away the way a personal insect repellent would.
When the zebra mystery finally closed, it was only natural to move on to the next black and white creature in the animal kingdom. Caro, with the help of colleagues from UC Davis and the California State University - Long Beach, looked at thousands of pictures of giant pandas to determine why they are unique. The answer came when, instead of looking at the bigger picture, the team focused on panda parts instead.
Pandas Are Black, White (And Asian) For Survival
After scouring thousands of photos — and experiencing immense difficulty in trying to figure out pandas due to a lack of similar species for comparison — the team decided to deconstruct the creature by treating every part of the panda's body as an independent area of study.
After this, the team compared the fur in different areas of the panda's body to the coloration of other animals, including 195 carnivorous species and 39 bear subspecies, which it is related to, and they determined that the main function of the panda's coloration and pattern have to do with concealing itself from predators.
Caro said that the panda's white face, neck, belly, and rump are for when it hides in the snow during winter while its black arms and legs conceal it when it hides in the shade of the forests.
The team said the ability to conceal itself is necessary for the giant panda since, unlike other bear species that hibernate, the panda never stores enough fat due to its strict bamboo diet, so it has to stay out and about — and vulnerable to predators — during winter.
As for the panda's black eyes and ears, Caro's team determined that it was more for communication within the species.
The full study is published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.