Giant Panda

Scientific name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Photo © Konrad Wothe / Getty Images.

Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are bears that are well known for their distinct black and white coloration. They have black fur on their limbs, ears, and shoulders. Their face, belly, and the middle of their back is white and they have black fur around their eyes. The reason for this unusual color pattern is not fully understood, although some scientists have suggested it provides camouflage in the dappled, shady environments of the forests in which they live.

Giant pandas have a body shape and build that is typical of most bears. They are roughly the size of an American black bear. Giant pandas do not hibernate. Giant pandas are the rarest species in the bear family. They inhabit the broadleaf and mixed forests where bamboo is present, in southsest China.  

Giant pandas are usually solitary animals. When they encounter other pandas, they sometimes communicate using calls or scent marks. Giant pandas have a sophisticated sense of smell and they use scent marking to recognize and define their territories. Young giant pandas are born quite helpless. Their eyes remain closed for the first eight weeks of their life. For the next nine months, the cubs nurse from their mother and they are weaned at one year. They still require a long period of maternal care after weaning, and for this reason remain with their mother for a one and a half to three years, as they mature.

The classification of giant pandas was once a subject of intense debate. At one time they were thought to be of a close relation to racoons, but molecular studies have revealed they belong within the bear family. Giant pandas diverged from other bears early in the family's evolution. 

Giant pandas are higlhy specialized in terms of their diet. Bamboo accounts for over 99 percent of the giant panda's diet. Since bamboo is a poor source of nutrition, the bears must make up for this by consuming vast amounts of the plant. Another stragegy they use to compensate for their bamboo diet is to conserve their energy by remaining within a small area. To consume sufficient bamboo to provide all the energy they need, it takes giant pandas as much as  10 and 12 hours of feeding every day.

Giant pandas have powerful jaws and their molar teeth are large and flat, a structure that makes them well suited for grinding up the fibrous bamboo they eat. Pandas feed while sitting upright, a posture that enables them to grab onto bamboo steams.

The digestive system of a giant panda is inefficient and lacks the adaptations that many other herbivorous mammals posess. Much of the bamboo they eat passes through their system and is expelled as waste. Giant pandas obtain most of the water they need from the bamboo they eat. To suplement this water intake, they also drink out of streams that are common in their forest habitat.

The giant panda mating season is between March and May and young are usually born in August or September. Giant pandas are reluctant to breed in captivity. Giant pandas spend between 10 and 12 hours each day feeding and foraging for food.

Giant pandas are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are only about 1,600 giant pandas that remain in the wild. Most captive pandas are kept in China.

Size and Weight

About 225 pounds and 5 feet long. Males are larger than females.


Giant pandas are classified within the following taxonomic hierarchy:

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Carnivores > Bears > Giant pandas