Why are giant pandas black and white?

BBC Wildlife contributor Stuart Blackman discusses why giant pandas are black and white.


Wild giant panda © Joseph Van Os/ Getty 


Black and white mammals have proved something of a problem for biologists.

Decades of investigation have failed to pin down a robust explanation for the zebra’s famous stripes.

Neither is there a shortage of possibilities for the panda’s monochromatic splodges, including heat retention, camouflage and as a warning to potential predators. 

The latest analysis suggests that it stems ultimately from the bears’ nutritionally poor bamboo diet, which forces them to be active year-round instead of hibernating over the winter.

In which case, the pattern is a compromise between camouflage in both snowy and summer conditions.

Even if this does prove correct, there is probably still more to it, because there is good evidence that the black ears and eyes play a role in communication and individual recognition. 

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