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Panda Updates – Friday, January 22

We talk a lot about the giant pandas “culming” bamboo, but what does that actually mean? Well, technically, nothing! “Culming” is a word we have made up for this behavior; you won’t find it in reference to giant pandas in any dictionary. However, in giant panda parlance, “culming” or “to culm” means to split apart the culm, or woody stem, of the bamboo in order to eat the whitish-yellow inner layer. The giant pandas do this by biting the end of a bamboo culm and tearing downward with their mouths. Typically this method removes a piece of culm that is approximately a foot long and an inch wide. The giant panda then engages its pseudothumb on a front paw to hold the piece while using its mouth to remove the green outer layer of the culm. They spit that green layer onto the floor or their bellies and begin eating the whitish-yellow inner culm that is left behind, still holding it in one paw and taking bites out of it like it’s beef jerky. Despite having done all that work to get that inner layer of culm, the giant pandas rarely eat the entire piece. At a point determined only by the secret knowledge they seem to possess about what bamboo is most nutritious, the giant pandas drop the piece of culm they have been eating and grab the original bamboo stalk to tear off another piece and begin the process all over again! 

This picture shows a piece of bamboo that has been partially culmed. The giant panda who was eating this piece likely tore off two strips of culm and went through the process of splitting them before deciding the bamboo wasn’t nutritious enough to continue eating and moved on to another piece. You can see a couple pieces of that whitish-yellow stripped-down inner culm on the mulch near the bamboo- those are what is left behind after a giant panda has split apart the layers of culm, eaten some of the inner culm, and then dropped it on the ground. 

Michelle E.
Keeper III, Mammals

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