What is the first thing that people think about when offered the word Panda? Usually you think docile, or bamboo eating, or black and white. But what is the true Panda really like? This article tries to give the reader a closer glimpse into the life of a Giant Panda.
The Panda was originally so named because it has six fingers. Well, actually it has five fingers and a thumb-like appendage. The thumb is an adaptation that helps it to grip its primary food source, bamboo. The bear eats the bamboo by gripping it with both front paws and stabilizing the shoot with a back foot.
They have been called bears for many years, but there was debate for many years as to whether they were actually members of the bear family or the raccoon family. After some DNA testing it was found that they actually are members of the bear family and they were also classified as carnivores. They have this additional classification because they have the teeth of typical carnivores and their diet can include flesh (usually small fish and mollusks.) but they typically will fill their diet with 99% bamboo. They will eat about 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo daily, and can be seen eating almost constantly because they receive very little energy from the shoots. Because this energy transfer is very small the Panda has a very narrow range in the wild, but must maintain at least two types of bamboo in it’s range because of the growth patterns of the different types of bamboo. If it didn’t have at least two different species in it’s range it would starve.
Speaking of species, there are two different subspecies of Panda. One is the primary one which we all identify as the Giant Panda and the other only inhabits a small range of mountains in central China and is more brown in color than its close relative.
The Panda’s once lived in lowland areas, but moved to the mountains because of the advent of agriculture. They have been on the endangered species list for many years, but the population is thought to have increased measurably to about three thousand animals. The main issue, besides hunting, behind the low population has been a difficulty breeding in both captivity and the wild. The problem has recently been solved because a group of researchers discovered that they have breeding patterns similar to American black bears. They produce approximately one cub every two years.
Finally, why is the Chinese “Bear Cat” (its actual name in Mandarin) black and white? No one actually knows, but it is assumed that it is camouflage due to its residence in snowy and rocky mountain ranges.