Giant pandas are famous for their diet of bamboo, a giant, fast-growing form of grass with over 1,000 species. But how that low energy diet shapes how much they eat and sleep, how it affects the size of their young, and how they poop may all be lesser known. This Pandas 101 video from Nat Geo Wild explains, including why their year-round dependence on bamboo might be the reason why they have black and white fur.
To understand how pandas subsist on such a diet, researchers radio-collared three male and three female pandas in the Qinling Mountains of China and observed what they ate in their natural habitats for 6 years. The team also analyzed the panda diet in depth by measuring the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and calcium—the three most essential nutrients for mammals—in the plants they ate… “In areas with only one edible plant, animals may try to consume different parts of the same food…”
The two bamboo species in Qinling, wood bamboo and arrow bamboo, grow at different elevations and sprout new shoots and leaves at different times of the year. The tracking collars revealed that during mating season in the spring, pandas fed on young wood bamboo shoots, which are rich in nitrogen and phosphorous. In June, the wood bamboo shoots had matured and contained fewer nutrients, so pandas migrated to higher elevations and started eating young arrow bamboo shoots. However, both species’ shoots had low calcium levels, which pushed pandas toward the next dietary shift in mid-July: young arrow bamboo leaves, which are rich in calcium.
Related reading: Lazy lifestyle key to pandas’ bamboo-only diet.Next, watch pandas on a slide, Raising Red Panda Cubs Tink & Henry, and Gotta Eat! and Classifying Organisms. Plus, another use for bamboo: How Yodoe oil-paper umbrellas are crafted in Japan.