Panda patches. Giant pandas’ patches are among the most striking of any mammal: black ears and eye spots set against a white face, with dark limbs and shoulders abutting a white neck and torso.
Scientists have proposed dozens of reasons for the animals’ piebald appearance. They could be warnings, like the black and white stripes on skunks. Or they could be used for camouflage, communication, eye protection, or regulating body heat. To find out which ideas were on the mark, scientists compared panda pelage to the dark and light coloring of 195 other terrestrial carnivore species and 39 bear subspecies, and then matched their patterns against environmental conditions and social behaviors.
The scientists did not find a link between temperature and coat color; nor did they find an association between black eye markings and daytime glare. But they did find a connection between lighter colors and snow cover, suggesting that the giant panda’s white markings help hide the animal in snowy habitats, they report today in Behavioral Ecology.
Meanwhile, their darker markings likely hide them in the forest, where they are preyed on by predators like leopards. Pandas evolved both colors as a kind of compromise, the scientists argue, because they are active year-round in both habitats. But what about the face patches? The analysis indicates that markings on carnivores’ heads are not used for camouflage, but to communicate. Species with strongly contrasting hues between ears and face tended to be fierce, and they suggest pandas may also use their ears to signal warnings to predators. The eye patches may help them recognize one another.
Other studies have shown that pandas remember these patches, which vary greatly in size and shape. They can also enlarge them when staring at a competitor. As lovable as we may find those patches, pandas don’t: They cover their eyes with their paws when they don’t want to look aggressive.
In China a long time ago, there was a little boy named Joey, who cared after his father’s sheep in the meadows. He had heard many stories about the famous white bear that roamed around in the wild. Joey had never actually seen one of the ferocious creatures but had seen carvings and paintings of this mysterious animal.
One day, as Joey was tending to his mother’s vegetable garden, he heard a strange sound, and it was something he had never heard before. He turned around and saw an ivory coloured bear sitting at his feet. It stared up at him with large, round black eyes. Joey backed away in fear, as this creature could attack him at any moment, but the creature slowly walked towards Joey in curiosity. Joey quickly stepped back a couple of steps to only find out he had tripped over a log.
The white animal had quickly jumped on his chest and prowled close to Joey’s face. It started sniffing at this new “object” it had found, and soon it opened its mouth. Joey thought he was going to be eaten, but instead a pink tongue came out and started to lick his face. Joey was surprised that the animal didn’t eat him and he started to laugh. He picked up the creature and called it Star. Later that night Joey had given Star a bath, some bamboo shoots to eat and a small basket with blankets.
After being shown the animal that Joey had found, Joey’s father told Joey Star was a panda cub and could not stay. The next morning Joey was sad, Star had to leave. Right after breakfast Joey took him to the edge of the forest. On the way there, Star had stepped on the ashes of the fire that was burning on the day before. With his paws all black, Star continued walking without noticing the black ash. When arriving on the edge of the forest, Star was crying and he rubbed his eyes to stop the tears. He realized that his paws were all black and sooty and carelessly rubbed it off on his fur coat, therefore creating black spots. Since then Pandas have always had black spots on their ivory fur.
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