Giant Pandas’ Diet and Their Favorite Food

We are already very familiar with the adorable face of the giant panda in cartoons, pictures, and movies. Most of the time, bamboos appear closely around them. They are either holding the juicy bamboos or feeding them to the mouth quickly. People may then think that the giant panda is herbivore but in fact, they are a carnivore. Besides bamboo, which is their main food, pandas also eat meat, fish, carrot and specially made nutritious steamed bread in captivity.

Giant Panda’s favorite food is bamboo

Giant panda’s daily diet is every tender part of bamboo, including leaves, stems, and shoots. Bamboo takes 99% of the panda’s diet. It’s definitely their favorite and indispensable.

Actually, due to ecological environment changes around the year and hence different growth stages of bamboos, panda’s bamboo diet varies accordingly between seasons. From April to June, the food is mainly bamboo stems; from July to October, bamboo leaves; and from November to March, old shoots, stems and leaves.

Pandas can find the most nutritious parts of bamboo quickly. They can peel and eat a bamboo shoot in about 40 seconds.

What bamboo species giant pandas eat?

There are in total about 164 different types of bamboo in Southwest China, but only a few species are widespread at the high altitudes where majority wild pandas now inhabit. Research shows that pandas live on about 25 different kinds. They especially like umbrella, arrow, and golden bamboos.

All plants of single bamboo types flower, die and regenerate at the same time. Pandas need at least 2 different bamboo species in their living area to avoid starvation. Among the different parts of bamboo, giant pandas love tender shoots the best, and then young leaves, because fresh shoots have less fiber and more nutrition.

How much bamboo do pandas eat a day?

Although 99% of their diet is bamboo, pandas still maintain the carnivore digestive system for meat. Only 20%-30 % of bamboo nutrients can be absorbed by pandas, which is very low compared with 70%-80% by other bears or plant-eating animals.

And since the energy given by bamboo is so low that pandas have to keep eating all day to get enough energy. A panda consumes between 23-40 kilo (50-90 pounds) bamboo a day. They spend 10-16 hours a day collecting, preparing and eating bamboo.

Why do pandas eat bamboo?

Panda eats bamboo partly because they have no umami taste receptors, so meat tastes bland to them. More importantly, giant pandas cannot run fast, it’s difficult for them to catch prey in the wild.

Pandas consume their energy as little as possible, for example, they like sitting but not chasing around, on the other hand, they have shart teeth and extremely strong bite force, even stronger than polar bears. These characteristics make sure they can rely on the low-nutritious bamboo instead of an all-meat diet.

Challenges giant pandas face due to their bamboo diet.

Giant pandas have faced or will also face survival challenges because of their bamboo diet.

Bamboo reaches the flowering cycle every 30-120 years. After the flowering, the entire species of bamboo will die in a “dieback” process. It can take up to 10-15 years for the bamboo to grow back.

For quite a long period in history, due to human activities expansion, panda’s natural habitat has been largely reduced, fragmented or lost, where bamboo is deforested for farming. This has left limited bamboo species for giant pandas.

Apart from the above, natural disasters can also damage the bamboo forest in panda’s habitat. In 2008, a deathly earthquake took place in Sichuan, home to the giant panda. The quake buried much of the bamboo under rock and mud.

On the other hand, pandas tend to keep a static lifestyle to avoid extra energy consumption, due to their low-nutrition bamboo diet. They will also stay away from each other and live alone. This adds difficulty to the already low reproduction rate of panda populations.

They cannot hibernate either for lack of enough energy storage to get through the winter season. Instead of hibernation, giant pandas migrate to lower mountain ranges for warmer temperature and food source of enough bamboo. Not all their habitats can allow this migration, so winter can be a hard time for the panda bears in the wild.

Thanks to the joint efforts from global environmentalists for years, there are now 40 panda reserves to help them live safely.

Bamboo fibers in panda poop are recyclable

Do you still remember the 70%-80 bamboo ate by giant pandas but not digested? For lack of the right kinds of gut bacteria, the carnivore digestive tract of giant pandas is inefficient to digest bamboo, so rich bamboo fibers are recyclable in panda’s poop. Surprisingly, a panda can poop up to 40 times a day, as much as 28 kg.

The panda poop is collected and made into paper using traditional Chinese papermaking skills. It can also be used as an ecological fertilizer for green tea plants.

As a carnivore, the giant panda also eats other food

The rest 1% of the panda diet consists of other plants and meat. Although they are almost vegetarians, sometimes they still hunt for prey such as fish in rivers. At panda bases, captive giant pandas are also fed with eggs and specially made nutritious food such as steamed bread.