Giant Pandas are amongst the most popular animals in the entire world. These oversized, cute and cuddly bears are incredibly funny, quirky, and interesting.
Giant Pandas have heaps of personality and they are considered by many to be synonymous with conservation. Conservation efforts in China for example, have really stepped up as of late to help save these amazing creatures before they become extinct for good.
The good news is that these conservational efforts in China have not been in vain, as efforts to save the animals have proved fruitful. Special reserves which have been established in China to help save this endangered species have increased from just 8, to over 60, in a little over three decades.
If you’ve ever seen a giant panda in a zoo or special panda animal reserve before, or if you’ve been incredibly fortunate to see one in the wild, there is a very strong chance that the panda you saw will have been sitting down or laying down, stuffing his or her face.
Giant pandas love to eat, but what does their diet actually consist of? Let’s find out, shall we? Here’s a look at some interesting facts about the giant panda’s diet in China.
Giant pandas love bamboo
Just as mice eat cheese, koala bears eat eucalyptus, and rabbits eat carrots, giant pandas love nothing more than to munch on bamboo.
Pandas spend the vast majority of their day chomping away on bamboo, and boy, can they eat! Each day, a giant panda will consume, on average, between 26 and 84 pounds of bamboo! Obviously the bigger the panda, the more bamboo it will eat, but in any event, that is an extraordinary amount of bamboo for a creature to eat.
Giant pandas like different types of bamboo
To most people, bamboo is simply bamboo, but to someone with experience, that is like saying that all cheese is the same. In reality, there are mild cheeses, blue cheeses, cream cheeses, sharp cheeses, mature cheeses, and much more besides, and the same principle applies to bamboo.
There are more than 60 different species of bamboo plant in existence, and giant pandas each have their own unique preferences.
Some pandas enjoy water bamboo, whereas others are fans of Lengjian bamboo or black bamboo.
Another firm favourite is cold arrow bamboo, as this has a nice taste, is rich in nutrients, and has a crisp and tender texture which the pandas find pleasant on the palette.
Giant pandas eat different types of bamboo at different times of the year
Another interesting fact about giant pandas and their excessive consumption of bamboo, is the fact that they consume different types of bamboo at different times of the year.
In the late spring and summer months, giant pandas primarily chomp away on bamboo shoots.
In the autumn, as they come cascading down to the ground, giant pandas munch away on bamboo leaves.
In the winter months, bamboo poles are on the menu primarily.
Giant pandas don’t do much other than eat
To some of you, the thought of spending your day eating and laying down may sound quite appealing as a one off, but to giant pandas this is an everyday occurrence.
Giant pandas don’t really do much in the day, other than eat. We’ve already looked at just how much bamboo they eat, but just how much time do giant pandas spend eating?
Well, this does of course vary from panda to panda, but typically you’ll find that giant pandas will spend anything from 10 hours per day, up to 18 hours per day eating.
The rest of the time they will usually be found sleeping.
On paper, it’s not a bad life, right?
Pandas are not herbivores
Despite the fact that bamboo makes up 99% of a typical giant panda’s diet, this does not make them herbivores as some people claim.
Giant pandas also eat meat and other creatures such as insects, bugs, and small rodents.
Giant pandas in the wilds of China for example, also hunt for their food and catch and eat small rodents such as Pikas, which are native to mountainous regions of Asia, or Bamboo Rats.
If you’ve ever seen a giant panda move before, you’ll notice that they aren’t exactly the fastest, or the most agile of creatures, so they aren’t exactly cut out for hunting in the same way as lions, tigers, and jaguars for example. They normally catch their prey by stumbling across injured rodents, or even recently dead animals.
They have also been known to eat fish, though again, they usually eat recently dead fish unless they happen to catch one by accident.
Captive pandas eat a lot of fruit
Pandas also eat fruit, especially those in captivity, and it has been found that they are particularly fond of apples.
Many panda reserves such as the one at Chengdu, actually make what are known as ‘panda cakes’ which are designed to almost be to pandas what vitamin supplements are to us. Recipes vary, but panda cakes are usually made from ingredients such as: cornbread, oats, rice, wheat, vitamins, fruits, and minerals such as calcium carbonate and hydrogen phosphate.
As a treat in the summer, pandas are fed frozen apples, or ice with slices of apple inside to help keep them cool.
Because giant pandas are so endangered, the foods they are fed in captivity are carefully selected and thoroughly examined beforehand, to ensure that the food is indeed fit for consumption and will provide them with all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that they need.
Giant pandas’ diets have changed with evolution
Nowadays, if a giant panda is found in a location where there is a plentiful supply of bamboo, it doesn’t matter what other food options are available, 9 times out of 10 the panda will choose the bamboo. This wasn’t always the case.
Research suggests that environmental damage has destroyed the predecessors to today’s giant pandas roughly 7 million years ago. As they were more closely related to bears, they ate more meat and less fruits and vegetables.
When they were wiped out, pandas had no choice but to eat more vegetable foods and their diets became more vegetarian-based.
Because giant pandas began to evolve differently, as more and more of them ate plants, they lost their taste for meat and instead found a new love for plants, fruits, and veggies.
Experts believe that giant pandas have been eating bamboo as their primary food source for around 2 million years now.
Zookeepers have to dress as pandas to feed them
Recently, in China and places where panda reserves are common, sales for panda hoodies, panda mascot outfits, and other panda-related clothing sales have increased noticeably.
The main reason for things such as panda outfits and panda mascot costumes becoming so popular amongst zookeepers and conservationists is simply due to the fact that this is the only way that the pandas will let the people get close enough to them to feed them.
Normally, if a panda saw a person approaching them, they would become apprehensive and would likely turn their nose up at the food given. If however, the conservationist or zookeeper were wearing a panda costume or a panda mascot costume as a disguise, this would help them to blend in and get close enough to the giant pandas to feed them.