National Geographic : 2017 Oct
| EXPLORE | ANIMALS Think of flamboyance in the animal kingdom, and a colorful menagerie springs to mind: a parrot’s rainbow plumage or the showy scales of a tropical fish. Mammals tend to be less colorful than other animal groups, but some are strikingly attired in black-and-white. What purpose do such high-contrast patterns serve? The color scheme’s util- ity isn’t always apparent. Deciphering what zebras gain from having stripes has puzzled scientists for more than a century. To try to solve the mystery, wildlife biologist Tim Caro of UC Davis spent SPOTS AND STRIPES ARE NOT SO BLACK- AND-WHITE By Natasha Daly more than a decade studying zebras in Tanzania. He ruled out theory after theory—stripes don’t keep them cool, stripes don’t confuse predators—before finding an answer. In 2013 in the savanna, he set up flytraps covered in zebra skin and, for comparison, others draped in wildebeest skin. He saw that flies didn’t seem to like landing on the stripes. After more research he concluded that stripes can literally save a zebra’s hide from disease-carrying pests. Black-and-white may not be as eye- popping as fluorescent scales—but it can pay off for the mammals that sport it. DAISY CHUNG, NGM STAFF; KELSEY NOWAKOWSKI SOURCE: TIM CARO, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS Communicative Patchwork Recent insights into panda coloring have come from studying each body part separately. Black ears indicate ferocity, and distinct eye patches aid in individual recognition. The panda’s white body camouflages it against snow, while its dark limbs help it hide in forests, a compromise derived from its poor bamboo diet. Bamboo doesn’t let pandas build up enough fat to hibernate, forcing them to spend winters in the snow. GIANT PANDA Warning Communication (within own species) Concealment Physical regulation Why Black-and-White?