We finally know why pandas are black and white.
It has nothing to do with them being so very, very cute — instead, its meant to make pandas look tough, according to a new study.
Pandas are one of the few mammals that don't have coloring that matches their environment. They're a study in contrasts, with black fur that matches dark forests and white fur for snow-filled landscapes.
A team of researchers from UC Davis and California State University, Long Beach, wanted to know the adaptive significance of those colors. (They're the same team who figured out zebras have black and white stripes to keep away blood-sucking flies.)
Image: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
They found that the panda's white face, neck, belly, backside and rump (their word) help blend into a snowy scene. But the dark markings around their eyes and ears stand out in a snowy environment.
That's because, according to the study published last week in Behavioral Ecology, those dark spots and markings are meant to show predators like snow leopards and jackals they are indeed a bear and should be feared as such, or as the scientists said, "signaling intent about ferocity." Those dark eyes may also help other bears identify the creature as a fellow bear.
While many theories exist for the specific and consistent coloring of pandas, the black parts don't appear to be involved in helping the mammals regulate temperature, obscure the animal's shape or reduce eye glare, the researchers found.
Now if we could solve the mystery of what makes these animals so adorable.