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Panda Updates – Friday, September 27

Time for more in our series on myths and misconceptions about giant pandas! For various reasons, pandas are sometimes jokingly referred to as “fake bears.” I don’t think that phrase necessarily refers to their body structure, as they are very clearly a bear, but more so their behaviors and diet. But, when you really think about it, pandas having their distinctive black-and-white coloring isn’t that odd when you look across all the color variations in the bear family. Among the bear family you can see coats of all white (polar bears), all black (American black bears), or a huge range of color variation in brown bears. So, pandas having black-and-white coats isn’t that far-fetched, and it helps them blend in among shady bamboo forests.

When it comes to their bamboo diet, you must remember that bears are generally omnivorous, meaning that they can eat a variety of plants, insects, and meat (the only exclusively carnivorous bear is the polar bear). In China, wild pandas have been observed breaking into livestock pens and eating goats and sheep, as well as consuming other deer species. Despite their bamboo diets, they have continued to retain the carnivorous dental makeup and gut flora to consume meat. Bamboo actually has a decent amount of protein for a plant, so pandas transitioning to an almost 99% bamboo diet many years ago isn’t as bizarre as it might seem. For a number of reasons, pandas choose to eat almost exclusively bamboo, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same digestive capabilities and ability to consume a variety of diet items like other bears.
Danica W.
Keeper II, Mammals
(photo by Danica W.)

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