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Food: The Giant Panda's Eating Habits

Did you think the giant panda only ate bamboo? Well, think again.

What the giant panda eats
Many think that the giant panda only eats stems, leaves and fresh new shoots of bamboo, but it will also eat berries, fruit, flowers, fungi, grass, bark, bird's eggs and insects. It also eats flowers like crocuses and irises which grow in its mountain habitat. In the wild it will also catch fish and hunt small birds and rodents, like bamboo rats. This is not enough to live on, though, so it mainly eats various species of bamboo.

Eating with a carnivore's digestion
The giant panda's diet is 99% vegetarian, but it is actually classed as a carnivore! It has a short digestive system, which is normal for carnivores, but herbivores normally have longer digestive systems. In other words, its digestive system is not well suited to its diet. The panda's intestines are too short to digest bamboo properly. The reason is that it descended from a carnivore that lived millions of years ago. Over time, the food supply changed, and there was less meat, but plenty of bamboo. So, the giant panda's ancestors started eating bamboo. The panda evolved, but its intestines didn't. That is why it has a carnivore's digestive system, but a herbivore's diet.

The panda's teeth
The giant panda has very powerful jaws. Its molar and premolar teeth are really meant To be used by a carnivore to tear flesh, but the panda uses them to slice, crunch and crush tough bamboo stems. It's capable of crushing bamboo stems up to 4cm in diameter. The giant panda has an extra molar on its lower jaw. Its diet is very hard on its teeth.

How much the panda eats
Because bamboo has a low nutrition value compared to meat, the giant panda usually needs 10-20kg of bamboo a day, which is more than 4500kg a year. Therefore it spends 16 hours a day eating, but it only digests the equivalent of one hour's intake. In spring when there are lots of sweet, young bamboo shoots, it sometimes eats 36kg bamboo in one day.

How the panda eats
The giant panda eats sitting down. It grabs a bamboo stalk and pulls it down, then bites it off. With its teeth it strips off the tough outside, and then munches and finishes it in less than a minute.

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