Why are giant pandas colored that way? Answer: It’s complicated

Why Evolution Is True

Admit it: you’ve wondered, because you’re interested in evolution, why giant pandas are colored that way: “parti-colored”, as they say in the trade. (Their Latin binomial, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, means “cat-foot, black and white”.)

Here’s one, in the extremely unlikely case you’ve forgotten:


No other bear looks anything like that. A new paper in Behavioral Ecology by Tim Caro et al. attempts to explain this pattern, though access isn’t free. (The reference is at the bottom, and if you need a pdf file, judicious inquiry might yield one.)

As you may recall, Caro and his colleagues are the people who have evidence that zebra stripes evolved to ward off biting flies.

In the new paper, the authors first describe the panda’s color pattern in appealing language, and then lay out the hypotheses that have been advanced to explain that pattern. Remember that pandas are the only completely herbivorous bears, subsist on a diet of…

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