Giant Panda Facts

Scientific name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Giant panda eating

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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.

Fast Facts: Giant Pandas

  • Scientific Name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca
  • Common Names: Giant panda
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 2–3 feet tall at the shoulder when on four legs, about 5-feet tall standing erect
  • Weight: 150–300 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20 years (in the wild)
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Broadleaf and mixed forests, where bamboo is present, in southeast China 
  • Population: About 1,600
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Description

Giant pandas have a body shape and build that is typical of most bears and are roughly the size of an American black bear. They have a distinctive black-and-white coat with black fur covering their ears, arms and legs, and part of their chest and back. The rest of their fur is white.

Giant pandas' molars are very broad and flat, which helps the animals crush the bamboo shoots, leaves, and stems that they eat. They also have an enlarged wrist bone that functions as an opposable thumb, which helps them grasp the bamboo. Giant pandas do not hibernate and are the rarest species in the bear family.

Habitat and Range

Giant pandas inhabit the broadleaf and mixed forests where bamboo is present, in southeast China. They usually 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.

Diet and Behavior

Giant pandas are highly specialized in terms of their diet. Bamboo accounts for over 99 percent of the giant pandas' diet, though they sometimes hunt for pikas and other small rodents. Since bamboo is a poor source of nutrition, the bears must make up for this by consuming vast amounts of the plant. Another strategy 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 long 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 possess. 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 supplement this water intake, they also drink out of streams that are common in their forest habitat.

Reproduction and Offspring

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.

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.

Cute Baby Giant Panda
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Conservation Status

Giant pandas are listed as vulnerable 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.

Classification Debate

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 raccoons, but molecular studies have revealed they belong within the bear family. Giant pandas diverged from other bears early in the family's evolution.

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