The life span of giant pandas in the wild is approximately 20 years. Captive pandas may live to be 25-30 years old.
The eyespots of a giant panda cub are initially in the shape of a circle. As the cub grows, the circles become shaped like a teardrop.
The giant panda has been on the endangered species list since 1990. The most significant threats to pandas are habitat loss and poaching. China is only approximately 5% greater than the U.S. in area but has four times the population.
Pandas have been a symbol of peace in China. For example, hundreds of years ago, warring tribes in China would raise a flag with a picture of a panda on it to stop a battle or call a truce.
Giant pandas are on the brink of extinction, with just over 1,000 pandas left in the world. Scientists are hoping to increase the wild panda population to 5,000 by 2025.
The red panda and the giant panda share the same habitat and diet, and both animals are also endangered. However, scientific tests show that the red panda is in the raccoon family while the giant panda is in the bear family. Some scientists believe that the giant panda is so special that it should belong to its own family group.
According to legend, the panda was once an all-white bear. When a small girl tried to save a panda cub from being attacked by a leopard, the leopard killed the girl instead. Pandas came to her funeral wearing armbands of black ashes. As they wiped their eyes, hugged each other, and covered the ears, they smudged the black ashes.
Pandas can stand upright, but their short hind legs aren’t strong enough to support their bodies. A panda’s bones are twice as heavy as the bones of other animals the same size.
Pandas are pigeon-toed; in other words, they walk with their front paws turned inward.
Pandas do not run fast—a slow trot is as fast as they can go. The fastest bear is the black bear, which can run 35 miles per hour. That’s about as a fast as a horse or deer.
Pandas rely less on visual memory than they do on spatial memory to locate a mate’s home range area and preferred patches of bamboo. Spatial memory is defined as the ability to remember a location.
Many Chinese philosophers believe that the universe is made from two opposing forces, the Yin and Yang. The panda is one symbol of this philosophy with its contrasting black-and-white fur. The Chinese believe that the gentle nature of the panda demonstrates how the Yin and Yang bring peace and harmony when they are balanced.
Female pandas ovulate only once a year. They are fertile only two or three days of the year.
It takes about five years for a female cub to become an adult and up to seven years for a male cub.
There are only about 240 captive pandas in the world. They are all part of a breeding program.
The ancestor of the giant panda is the Ailurarctos (“cat bear”), which is an extinct genus of the Chinese panda that lived 8 million years ago. The skull of another ancestor, Ailuropoda microta, shows that it was half the size of a modern-day giant panda. Research shows that for the past 3 million years, giant pandas have evolved as a separate linage from other bears.
Pandas have plantigrade feet. This means their entire foot (toes and heel) touches the ground when walking, which is similar to the way humans, other bears, and rodents walk. Other animals, such as dogs, cats, and horses walk with their weight on their toes.
Mother pandas in captivity give birth to twins more often than mothers in the wild do.
More than half of newborn pandas die from diseases or from being accidentally crushed by their mothers.
From 1974-1989, half of the panda’s habitat in China’s Sichuan areas was destroyed by human activity.
Giant panda cubs are usually born in August or September and are the size of a stick of butter. A cub has pink skin, a thin coat of white fur, a long tail, and no teeth. Its eyes are closed. By the end of the first month, the baby panda has all of its spots. Its eyes open around 4-6 weeks. A baby panda is almost 2 months old before it is the size of an average human newborn baby. A baby is almost 2 years old when it leaves its mother.
A pair of breeding pandas needs more than 11 square miles of land. One giant panda usually needs between 2.5 to 4 square miles of land to survive.
A panda fur is worth between $60,000 and $100,000 on the illegal trade market.
Young pandas stay with the mothers for as long as three years, which means that a wild panda may raise only three or four cubs in a lifetime.
Panda researchers have counted 11 different panda calls—and four of them are used only when searching for a mate.
An adult giant panda weighs about 200-300 pounds (90-135 kg).
A panda mother is 900 times bigger than her newborn cub, which weighs less than 5 oz. In comparison, an 8-pound human baby would have a mother that weighed 7,200 pounds.
On all fours, a giant panda stands about 3 feet (.9 m) tall at the shoulder and measures about 5 feet (1.5 m) long. Males are about 10% larger than females.
Although a giant panda’s fur looks silky and soft, it is quite thick and wiry. The hair of an adult giant panda can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) long.
Pandas have lived on Earth for two to three million years.
Scientists are unsure why the giant panda has the markings it has. Some biologists believe the panda’s colors are camouflage of light and dark to help the panda hide in the shadows in a bamboo forest. Other scientists believe the black and white markings help the panda keep a steady temperature, or that the colors help the giant panda avoid other pandas. Still other biologists believe that the panda’s large black eyespots make their eyes look bigger and their stare more aggressive.
A panda’s throat has a special lining to protect it from bamboo splinters.
Giant pandas have 42 teeth. Like humans, giant pandas have two sets of teeth in their lifetime.
There is only one species of pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca or “black-and-white cat foot”). Wild pandas live only in small pockets of land in southwestern China.
The panda spends 14-16 hours a day eating bamboo.
The Chinese call giant pandas daxiongmao or “large bear cat.” Pandas have also been known as “beast of prey,” “white leopard,” “iron eating beast,” and “bamboo bear.”
The word “panda” may have developed from the Nepalese word poonya, which means “bamboo-eating animal” or “plant-eating animal.”
After Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, he received two pandas from the Chinese leader, Chairman Mao. The two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were placed in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. More than 1 million people visited them during their first year there. Nixon was the first U.S. president to ever visit China.
Much of the food that a giant panda eats is not digested. An adult giant panda in the spring can produce about 62 pounds of droppings in 24 hours.
A panda’s entire mating process takes only about two or three days. Once they have mated, females chase the males out of their territory and raise their cubs on their own.
The gestation period for giant pandas varies from 97-163 days. This wide range is due to delayed implantation, which means that after a giant panda becomes pregnant, the cub starts to grow only if the mother panda is able to get enough food. Once the cub starts to develop, it takes about 45-60 days before it is born.
A giant panda usually gives birth to a single cub. Sometimes twins are born, but when this happens, the mother typically ignores the weaker cub. She does not have enough energy to care for two cubs.
The first giant panda ever to be born in captivity was born in a Beijing zoo in 1963.
Giant pandas have been driven out of the lowland areas where they used to live and now are found only in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, and Shaanxi. The forests in these provinces are very damp and rainy. In one year, a forest may receive up to 50 inches of rain and snow.
There are 300 species of bamboo in China. There are about 25 different kinds in the mountains where the pandas live. Pandas especially like to eat umbrella, arrow, and golden bamboo.
A giant panda’s face is cute, but it is not chubby. It gets its shape from massive cheek muscles. In fact, a giant panda’s jaw and cheek muscles are so powerful that a panda can easily chew an aluminum dish into tiny pieces. They can also easily bite through a thick bamboo stalk. Humans have trouble cutting the same stalk with an ax.
Although 99% of their diet is bamboo, a panda’s digestive system is designed for meat. In fact, pandas absorb only 20%-30 % of bamboo nutrients. Other plant eaters such as deer absorb around 80%. This means the panda has to eat most of the time it is awake to get enough nutrients to survive.
The Sichuan tribe in China believes that panda urine can dissolve a swallowed needle. They also believe that sleeping on a panda pelt helps keep away ghosts and helps foretell the future. In the Quin dynasty (220 B.C.), an early dictionary called Er Ya, claimed that a panda’s pelt could help control menses.
On average, a panda eats 25-30 pounds of bamboo in one day. In the spring, a panda may eat 100 pounds in a day.
A giant panda can peel and eat a bamboo shoot in about 40 seconds.
Bamboo reaches its flowering cycle every 30-120 years. After bamboo flowers, the entire species of bamboo dies in a process called bamboo dieback. It can take up to 10-15 years for the bamboo to grow back. Pandas have usually been able to migrate to other areas, but they have lost so much of thier habitant to humans that migration has become increasingly difficult.
It is very rare to see more than one panda at a time in the wild. Giant pandas cannot afford the energy it would take to compete with one another for food, territory, and mates.
Adult pandas are so large that they do not have many natural enemies. Snow leopards, however, will prey on vulnerable panda cubs or old and sick adult pandas.
Keeping even a single panda in a zoo is expensive. A panda costs five times more to keep than the next most expensive animal, an elephant.
In China, giant pandas are considered to be national treasures.
It was not until the 20th century that giant pandas became known to the rest of the world outside of China. The first live giant Panda to leave China in 1936 was named Su-Lin (“a little bit of something very cute”). He arrived at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
Fashion designer and socialite Ruth Harkness (1900-1947), without training or experience, became the first Westerner to capture and present a live giant panda to the world outside China.
Giant pandas have been the symbol of the international conservation organization WWF, or the World Wide Fund for Nature, since it was founded in 1961.
Some scientists believe that the giant panda is a remnant species, meaning that it is becoming extinct naturally, not just because of human activity. Other scientists believe that the panda’s problems are directly caused by humans.
There are about 15 giant pandas in zoos outside of China. Chinese zoos display another 90 captive animals.
Under its fur, the skin of a giant panda is black where its fur is black, and pink where its fur is white.
Giant pandas have a very good sense of smell. Even at night, they can find the best bamboo stalks by scent.
Giant pandas have evolved a unique “thumb” which they use to hold bamboo stalks. This thumb is actually a modified wrist bone.
It has been illegal to kill pandas in China since the 1960s, but the laws were not enforced strictly. In 1987, the laws were strengthened to increase punishment from two years to a life sentence or even death. Today the punishment is less severe: 10-20 years in prison.
Giant pandas do not hibernate because their bamboo diet will not allow them to build up enough fat reserves for the winter.
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