We might think that the bold black and white coloring of giant pandas makes them highly visible to humans and predators. But we would be wrong.
A new study by the Bristol University demonstrates that the unique black and white fur coloring pattern helps disguise giant pandas in their natural environment. For their investigation, the researchers used advanced image analysis techniques.
âI knew we were on to something when our Chinese colleagues sent us photographs of the nature and I couldn’t see the giant panda in the photo,â the professor explained. Tim Caro. “If I couldn’t see it with my good primate eyes, that meant potential carnivorous predators with their poor eyesight might not see it either.” It was simply a question of demonstrating it objectively.
First, the international team of experts analyzed the rare photographs of giant pandas in their natural environment. They found that the black patches of fur merged with dark shadows and tree trunks, while the white patches matched foliage and snow. In addition, the rare brown fur that some pandas exhibit matches the background colors and bridges the gap between dark and light elements of the visual environment.
The results are consistent whether seen by humans or by felid or canine vision models (both of which represent potential predators of pandas).
Next, the researchers assessed whether the giant pandas exhibited any disruptive coloring. It is a form of camouflage in which high contrast patterns break up the outline of an animal’s body or obscure easily recognizable internal features, such as the eyes or mouth.
Experts have found that the large black and white patches of fur indeed make it more difficult to identify different parts of a panda’s body as being connected to each other. This defensive color pattern means that the black legs and ears don’t look like part of the panda’s white body, especially when viewed from a distance.
Finally, the researchers used a new color map technique to compare a background similarity metric across a variety of species, including the giant panda. This comparative analysis confirmed that the substantive resemblance of the giant panda was firmly within the range observed for other species traditionally considered to be well camouflaged or cryptic.
“The sparse photographic evidence allowed us to examine for the first time the appearance of the giant panda in its natural environment,” said lead author of the study, Dr Ossi Nokelainen. âWith the help of advanced image analysis, we were able to process these images as if the pandas had been seen by their surrogate predators, using applied vision modeling techniques and also to explore their disruptive coloration. The comparative results totally shatter the myth that giant pandas are openly visible in their natural habitat. “
âGiant pandas seem remarkable to us because of the short viewing distances and strange backgrounds: when we see them, whether in photographs or at the zoo, it’s almost always up close, and often against a background that does not reflect their natural habitat. From the point of view of a more realistic predator, the giant panda is actually quite well camouflaged, âexplained Professor Nick Scott-Samuel.
Pandas aren’t the only ones with bold and extreme color patterns rather than the drab browns and earthy tones found in mammals generally considered to be well camouflaged. Zebras, skunks, badgers, and orcas all have striking black and white patterns on their bodies, which has intrigued and challenged scientists for decades.
The results of the study are published in the journal Scientific reports.
Through Alison bosman, Terre.com Editor-in-chief