Too Lazy To Hunt? How Giant Pandas Became Bamboo Dependent

Despite having the potential to be as fierce as other bears, Giant Pandas spend most of their day eating bamboo and sleeping. Why?

Giant Pandas spend most of their day chewing bamboo

We all love Pandas. They look like huge teddy bears with lots of fur, sad black eyes, and a weird lifestyle. But many would be amazed to know that they are of the same lineage as the more ferocious bears that easily hunt and prey on meat.

Even then, giant pandas are built as carnivores and they have the dentition and strength to prey on other animals. But why is that they would rather spend their time feasting on such a low nutrient plant as bamboo?

Habits maybe? Or a clever evolutionary tactic?

Let’s find out.

What Does Science Say About Giant Panda Feeding Habits?

Researchers tracked the Daily Energy Expenditure (DEE) of five captive pandas and five wild pandas.

They found out these are one of the most laid back creatures around with the energy measurements ,”among the lowest relative to body mass ever made.”  Giant pandas typically do not move around much, mostly sit in one spot, sleep, poop and scratch all day long.

The scientists remarked that it’s actually a wonder that these creatures actually survived evolution for so many years and are not extinct yet.

Researchers then concluded that these giant pandas low energy requirement or daily energy expenditure has actually facilitated their survival on a low nutrient bamboo diet. Apparently, about 2.5 million years ago, this particular species diverted from the bear line due to lack of ability to hunt.

They believe the lazy habits of this creature made them eat the readily available bamboo plants. However, even after 2.5 million years of evolution their guts have still not adapted to the “change” in diet.

But make no mistake; though Giant Pandas appear lazy and laid back, they have a frightful bite force and sharp claws. They can defend themselves against some of the most ferocious creatures on Earth.

What’s The Effect Of So Much Bamboo On Giant Pandas?

To enable them survive on mainly bamboo, our adorable but lazy panda bears have developed a clever strategy.

Use as little energy as possible.

Giant pandas have adapted to their low calorie diet by conserving as much energy as possible.

For instance:

  • They move around as little as possible.
  • Sleep for most of the day.
  • They have also transformed their body to conserve energy throughout the day. Their thyroid hormone level is comparable to that of a hibernating black bear.
  • Relatively small brains(for their body size), liver and kidneys also contribute to this less energy demands.
  • The females give birth to their babies early. By doing this, they feed them with milk externally and grow the cubs outside rather than have them growing internally in the womb.
  • Evolution has also made their chomping muscles stronger and given them their famous thumbs to enable them to eat bamboo. But their digestive system still resembles a carnivore more than the herbivore.
  • In order to actually meet their barest minimum daily nutrient need, pandas have to eat half of their body weight in bamboo! But even at that, they can digest only 17 percent of the total bamboo they eat. So the other 83 percent goes down their intestine as Yes that means they poop very frequently (around 40 times a day).

Researchers have thus concluded that giant pandas could only survive the rigors of evolution at such a laid back pace due to availability of bamboo in their native habitat, and lack of competition for food (bamboo).

Since bamboo is so low in nutrient and extremely hard to chew, you can expect that most other animals would rather avoid it.

That leaves our beloved bears with all the time to chomp away at a food source hardly anyone else is interested in.

Pretty clever, right?

 

References:

1. http://discovermagazine.com/2008/aug/05-could-pandas-be-an-evolutionary-mistake2014or-proof-of-an-intelligent-designer

2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/pandas-literally-evolved-to-be-lazy/6f397937d813

Photo Credit:

www.pixabay.com

 

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