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Panda Updates – Wednesday, September 2

Giant pandas are cute; we know that for a fact. However, after establishing the high level of cuteness present, the giant panda’s black-and-white coat is often the first thing we notice about them. And yet we still don’t know for sure why they have their distinctive coloration! A 2017 paper published in the journal Behavioral Ecology analyzed almost 200 species of terrestrial carnivores to try to understand possible correlations in coat color patterns. They confirmed what many have assumed or studied in the past: Animals that live in snowy environments seem to benefit from having light-colored coats to blend in with the snow, and animals in forest environments are often dark to hide in shady areas. Since giant pandas are technically carnivores that eat only bamboo, they are unable to store up enough fat to hibernate through the winter, making them active year-round. For some of the year, the black areas of their fur camouflage them in the dense, leafy bamboo forest, and in the winter their white fur helps them hide in snowy mountains. The paper also had some interesting insights on the color of their ears and eye spots, which we’ll talk about more in a future update! 

Paper citation: Tim Caro, Hannah Walker, Zoe Rossman, Megan Hendrix, Theodore Stankowich, Why is the giant panda black and white?, Behavioral Ecology, Volume 28, Issue 3, 01 May-June 2017, Pages 657–667, https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arx008 

P.S. Be sure to tune in to Zoo Atlanta Facebook and Instagram tomorrow (Thursday, September 3) at 10 a.m., when we’ll be celebrating Ya Lun’s and Xi Lun’s 4th birthday! I hope you will join us!

Michelle E.
Keeper III, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl