When it comes to the animal kingdom, most mammals you see in the wild are a color that matches their surrounding environment. There are always a handful of exceptions, but the most prevalent colors are shades of black and brown, which camouflage well with their surroundings.
It would seem like having easy-to-spot color schemes would make animals a bigger target to predation. That said, why do some animals, like the giant panda for example, have such unique body fur colors that make them easier to see?
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A new study that has been published in the journal Behavioral Ecology talks more about the possibilities behind why these animals have such a stark body fur color scheme compared to most other kinds of wildlife.
The researchers, which are based out of the University of California, Davis, and California State University, Long Beach, compared the animals to various other furry animals in the region, including 39 bear subspecies and over 190 other carnivores.
The researchers suggest that perhaps the dual-toned body fur color provides the ‘best of both worlds’ camouflage for the two different kinds of environments where giant pandas can be found in China: dense forests and the snowy tops of mountainous terrains.
Of course, as the seasons change, this color scheme also gives giant pandas a potentially versatile camouflage that works year-round through the Summer and Winter months.
"Analyses of fur color and background environments suggest that the giant panda’s white face, nape, dorsum, flank, belly, and rump are adapted for crypsis against a snowy background, whereas its black shoulders and legs are adapted for crypsis in shade," the researchers write. "Dark markings on the head are not used in crypsis, however, but in communication: Dark ears may be involved with signaling intent about ferocity whereas dark eye marks may serve in individual recognition."
Also important, the researchers found that the black patches of fur on the animals’ faces were distinct from one to another, which may help the animals in identifying one from another in the wild and/or communicating with one another. Other bits of black fur, such as around the rest of the body, would help the creature stay concealed in shadowy forested areas.
Because giant pandas don’t really move around much due to their low-energy diets, having the means of blending in with their surroundings is critical to their existence. Since they can’t change colors like a chameleon can, having this dual-purpose body fur color scheme is the next best thing.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about the topic considering much of what we know currently is based off of theories, but at least it’s a starting point for research into the mystery.
Source: Science Mag