The objective of the pandas' black limbs, black ears, black eye patches and white bodies was a particular curiosity to these scientists at the University of California at Davis and California State University at Long Beach.
Pandas, unlike other bears, can not slumber through the winter.
Well, finding the answer wasn't as black and white as the University of California, Davis study's subject.
Study lead author Tim Caro, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology said, "Understanding why the giant panda has such striking coloration has been a long-standing problem in biology that has been hard to tackle because virtually no other mammal has this appearance, making analogies hard".
However, black and white markings are rarely seen in nature. Other kinds of bears tend to sport solid, non-patterned colors, and scientists did not have a satisfactory explanation as to why the panda bear was so different.
Although removed from the endangered species list due to conservation efforts, human encroachment on their habitat has restricted giant pandas to 20 isolated patches of bamboo in three Chinese provinces, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which has used its familiar panda logo since 1961.
Now, by taking this fact into account and adding some more environmental and regional variables, the scientists involved in the project have arrived at the conclusion that the panda bear's distinctive black and white fur can only serve two purposes: camouflage and communication.
Scientists believe they have unlocked the secret of why the bamboo-munching giant panda.
For the study, researchers compared the color of each body parts of the panda with the coloring of 195 other carnivore species and 39 bear subspecies. Bamboo is a relatively poor food source that doesn't allow for the storage of enough fat for the pandas to go dormant during the winter like other of their bear brethren do.
For example, in spite of living on opposite sides of the globe, leopards (in Africa and Asia) and jaguars (in the Americas) have similar black-on-tan spots covering their body, which helps break up their outlines into sun-dappled environments as they stalk their prey.
More compelling was a 2008 study in which two young pandas identified subtle differences in artificial eye-mask patterns.
Caro said that the panda's white face, neck, belly, and rump are for when it hides in the snow during winter while its black arms and legs conceal it when it hides in the shade of the forests. Apart from camouflage and warnings to predators, it is also thought that the unique colors of the panda help in attracting mates for sexual reproduction.
Only a few years ago, the same team of researchers argued a zebra's stripes helped confuse flying insects, offering them some protection against the scourge of biting flies. The researchers are guessing that the eyes and the ears may serve as a signal of aggression.