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How the Panda Got its Spots
Witnessing Tools
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Wendy Wippel

Just in from U.C. Davis: Crackerjack researchers there, recently announced that they have an answer to a question that has puzzled the minds of all humanity for centuries. Why the Giant Panda has both black and white spots?  (I know it’s top of my list and I’m sure it must be top of yours as well.)

It’s an important problem. According to one of the scientists involved: "Understanding why the giant panda has such striking coloration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been difficult to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies difficult,” (Tim Caro, biologist in the Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology department at U.C. Davis.)

For a biologist, the kind of thing that keeps you up nights. Right up there with global famine and global nuclear meltdown.

Not that they were short of theories. Some thought it might be that the distinct coloring of the panda may serve to disrupt the animals' outline.

Disrupting the animals' outline, meaning that the dramatic black/white dicotomy of the panda may make it more difficult, particularly for animals' eyes to discern what the whole object really is.

That being food, an object highly likely to be of interest to said animals.

Others thought that the pandas’ unusual coloring was involved in temperature regulation, but, since pandas don’t hibernate, that was also eventually dismissed.

The last working theory was that maybe the pandas' facial coloring reduced eye glare.

(And when I think about it, the face of a panda does kind of look like Tom Brady went wild with the eye Black at the Super Bowl). But ultimately that theory was finally put to rest too.

This team of researchers went a different route. They compared the black and white regions of the pandas' fur to the fur coloring of more than 234 other fur-bearing animals (different bears and other carnivore species), then compared their findings to the environmental and behavioral parameters of the animals studied. Then they published their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

And we can all thank God that they think, finally, they’ve found an answer.

These are their conclusions:

1)     White patches on the panda's face, rump, and belly provide camouflage from predators in snowy habitats.

2)    Dark limbs help the panda hide in forests.

Is it just me or does that seem more than a little simplistic? When the panda is using his white spaces to blend in in snow, aren’t his black legs (and ears!) all the more glaring? And when he is using his black legs to blend in in the deep dark forest, wouldn’t the expanse of his white fur pretty much beg for a carnivore’s attention?

I am sorry. I am only a molecular biologist. Maybe there is something here I am missing. Maybe in between eating, the pandas are practicing their lotus positions so they can stand with only one black leg down.

I do know, however, that there is something Caro and his compatriots are missing. The concept of a Creator. Why is it so outrageous to think that all this didn’t happen all by itself?  That maybe there was an Architect who designed each thing we see for a purpose.  Why is that completely off the table? Maybe God designed the panda to entertain Cain and Abel, who, after all, were not going to have access to G.I. Joes.

But wait! There’s more!

The black ears and eyes which were, once thought to present a sinister, threatening profile used to warn predators away, have now been shown, ostensibly using only 249 samples of fur color, to be mostly involved in helping the panda recognize his friends. (And maybe scare off his competitors.) Although one researcher did mention that the panda is by nature a solitary animal, and may actually use the eye markings to identify other pandas from a distance so they can avoid socializing.

(If that’s true, I would have to confess that I would fit right in….)

Caro previously wore a zebra costume in an effort to determine why the zebra has stripes, coming to the conclusion that the stripes made it more difficult for horseflies to see them.  So we have to respect his dedication and the dedication of his team. A second researcher observed that, “This really was a Herculean effort by our team, finding and scoring thousands of images and scoring more than 10 areas per picture from over 20 possible colors," Dr. Stankowich.

Stankowich also observed that. "Sometimes it takes hundreds of hours of hard work to answer what seems like the simplest of questions."

And thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars. I have been in government research. I know.

Thousands of dollars spent that one open Bible could have saved.

The Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam. Genesis 2:19

Someday we’ll know what Adam called them…

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: King Solomon's Mines



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