Iconic pandas colors turn out good for something besides looking cute

At first glance, the panda doesn’t seem to have the same type of camouflage protection as, say, some lizards or many underwater creatures – but a new study shows how the colors of the giant panda’s fur help it to shine. blend into the background very effectively.

Although it is not completely new idea, this is the first time that the camouflage capabilities of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) were put to the test in a series of advanced image analysis techniques, using rare photos of pandas in their natural habitat.

And it’s when you see the animals in the mountain forests that they call home that you can really see how effective the shades of their fur are in keeping them out of sight – which algorithms confirm. image processing used here.

Locate the panda … one of the images used in the study. (FuWen Wei)

“It seems that the giant pandas are remarkable to us because of the short viewing distances and the strange backgrounds”, says psychologist Nick Scott-Samuel from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. “When we see them, whether in photographs or at the zoo, it’s almost always up close, and often in a context that doesn’t reflect their natural habitat.”

“From a more realistic predator perspective, the giant panda is actually pretty well camouflaged.”

The team found that the black fur patches helped the giant panda blend well with tree trunks and darker areas of the forest, while the white patches matched wax, specular lighting of foliage in summer and snow in winter. Some pandas also have pale brown spots which act as a sort of intermediate camouflage color.

The researchers also found in this study that the distinct large black and white patches of fur make the giant panda harder to spot due to a camouflage technique called disruptive coloring: Basically these patches break the visual outline of the animal.

The last part of the research was a comparative analysis with other animals that are widely considered to be well camouflaged. The panda was able to defend itself against these species when a special color map technique known as Quantitative analysis of colors and patterns (QCPA) was used on the images.

HidePanda 2Spot the panda again … another of the images used in the study. (FuWen Wei)

As the name suggests, the QCPA approach evaluates both color and pattern, as well as luminance. It assesses how the colors are placed next to each other, how well defined the edges of the patterns are, the contrast levels between areas, and much more.

“The scarce photographic evidence allowed us to examine for the first time the appearance of the giant panda in its natural environment”, says biologist Ossi Nokelainen, from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

“With 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.”

Nokelainen says the new study helps “break the myth” that pandas stand out when seen in their natural habitat. What you might see in a close-up photo taken in a zoo doesn’t quite reflect the environment pandas live in in the wild.

Remember that humans do not hunt the giant panda. They have predators like tigers, leopards, and wild dogs, especially little pandas, and none of these animals have as good vision as we do.

“I knew we were on to something when our Chinese colleagues sent us nature photos and I couldn’t see the giant panda in the photo,” he added. says biologist Tim Caro, from the University of Bristol.

“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 just a matter of objectively demonstrating it.”

The research was published in Scientific reports.

About Geraldine Higgins

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