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Bio-bullets

The giant panda as a sinister signboard

A black and white warning of dangerous teeth.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: “The black-and-white pattern of the giant panda was first interpreted as warning colouration half a century ago but nobody has taken that suggestion seriously. Although it’s true that this bamboo-chewing bear has an exceptionally strong bite, all carnivores defend themselves by biting, and teeth can be displayed directly by facial expression. It was far-fetched to suggest that the giant panda has evolved an extremely conspicuous pattern on its coat just to warn the tiger and the dhole of{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} teeth that have not particularly evolved for self-defence."{!njaccess}… See the hidden half of Prof. Mumblebard’s claim by subscribing here{/njaccess}

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: “The giant panda resembles skunks in being black-and-white, suggesting that the main function of its colouration is to warn potential predators of a hidden defence. The crucial possibility, previously overlooked by everyone, is that the giant panda is unique among Carnivora in possessing mutilar teeth – defined as clipping premolars not used to grind food. These anterior cheekteeth form a hidden weapon, extremely dangerous to any attacker because of a combination of three features unusual for premolars among Carnivora, namely: complete occlusion between upper and lower counterparts; placement just behind the canines and close enough to the muzzle to allow rapid biting; and cusps sharp enough to clip through flesh and bone given the strength of the jaw muscles and jawbones. In all other Carnivora, the only premolar used for shearing or slicing is the fourth upper premolar, a tooth converted to bamboo-crushing and -grinding in the giant panda to process its specialised diet. What is unique to the giant panda is a row of premolars converted to mutilars, far more powerful than can be explained by the requirements of the staple diet but powered by the same muscles that pulverise the bamboo. This has produced the largest premolar row, absolutely as well as relatively, of any member of the Carnivora on Earth. These teeth evolved for self-defence rather than eating and have been overlooked in all previous investigations owing to a focus on the molars of the giant panda – which are exceptionally well-developed but inept for self-defence. Crucial to explaining the colouration of this species is  {njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} that mutilars are, unlike canines, not self-evidently dangerous. As a result the giant panda has been overlooked by zoologists as an animal uniquely capable of amputating parts of an attacker’s body with a clipping action of the jaws. Because the capability of these premolars is not self-evident in their shape, fang-baring would be pointless and the giant panda instead maintains a remarkably expressionless face. The true function of whole-body warning colouration in this species is indirectly to remind would-be attackers of an unexpected weapon. According to our explanation, the giant panda would be the largest aposematic member of the Carnivora on Earth.”{!njaccess}… Reveal the hidden half of this response by Robin and the Honey Badger by subscribing here{/njaccess}

 

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.

 

A mutilator of more than just bamboos.
Last modified on 15 July 2015

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