What is a panda?
Apparently, at least in the Western world, panda was originally used to refer to the adorable little red panda, even though it is much less well known now. That’s why people will often refer to the black and white panda as a giant panda or panda bear- to differentiate between the two species. Both animals are native to Asia, mostly China, and they actually have a lot in common, which I’ll talk about later, even though it has been determined that they are not very closely related. And they’re just so super adorable!
Most of you know the basics of what a panda bear looks like- big, black and white fur, fluffy. More specifically, the panda bear can grow to be four to six feet tall and weigh several hundred pounds. It has distinctive black patches over its eyes, ears, and body that contrast with its otherwise white fur, although a certain subspecies has been known to be dark and light brown instead. It has been conclusively determined that the panda bear is, in fact a bear, though very different from most other bears.
The red panda, in contrast, is pretty small, typically growing only to a couple feet in length. It has red fur with black stripes on its tail and elsewhere. The red panda was originally considered to be a bear like the giant panda, but advances in biology have since changed its classification. Basically, scientists had trouble figuring out what exactly the red panda was for quite a while. it exhibits a lot of catlike qualities, being only slightly larger than the typical house cat and displaying certain catlike behaviors, such as licking itself clean when it wakes up. It also looks a bit like a red raccoon, but genetic testing has shown that the red panda is not really close to any of these animals. It eventually ended up getting its own family, Ailuridae, distinguishing it from any of these other animals, though it is most closely related to such mammals as weasels, skunks, and raccoons.
Both kinds of pandas are fairly similar when it comes to food, in that their diets tend to consist mostly of bamboo. Giant pandas almost literally only eat bamboo- it comprises about 99% of their diets- while red pandas eat about 2/3s bamboo. Accordingly, both animals are mostly herbivorous, also eating smaller quantities of other plants. They are, however, also known to eat small animals and eggs when they get the chance. It is actually the giant panda’s diet that causes its distinct round appearance. Neither species is very good at digesting cellulose, meaning that they don’t get very much energy from the bamboo they eat. Because of this, eating is basically all they do (aside from sleeping). Giant pandas especially have to keep their stomachs full in order to have enough energy to live. Their large, round shapes are an adaptation to minimize energy usage, typical of a slow metabolism. Neither animal does much aside from eating and sleeping, as I said. Though they have to move around to get to new bamboo shoots, giant pandas will avoid slopes that are too steep in order to conserve energy. Basically, Amy would make the perfect panda.
Both of these species also share a fairly low natural birthrate, with the giant panda’s being the lower of the two. Because of this, the giant panda is considered an endangered species, and even the red panda is considered vulnerable. Part of the reason for their low birth rates is the fact that both species live fairly solitary lives, with individual animals defending their own territories from others of the same species. Members of either species only really come together to mate once a year.
Giant pandas have been especially worrisome in efforts to raise their population, because their already low birth rate is often even lower in captivity, with the animals showing almost no interest in mating in zoos. Many captive pandas are therefore born through artificial insemination, though specialists are now starting to better understand mating habits and encourage natural reproduction more, which can occur at a rate of one baby every two or so years.
The red panda actually adapted pretty well to zoo life, and so it hasn’t given the same difficulties with reproduction. Red panda mothers can give birth to up to four babies at a time, though one or two is more common, every year and a half or so. Both species, due to their solitary nature, tend to have only the mother caring for the young.
After being born, wild panda bears can be expected to live around 20 years and captive animals will live more like 30, while wild red pandas live up to ten years in the wild and closer to fifteen in a zoo.
I was pretty sad to find out that, although red pandas are fairly common in zoos across the world, giant pandas are far rarer. This is because, though China used to give gifts of pandas as a form of diplomacy, they now mostly restrict this practice to temporary loans. Through this process, a zoo has to pay the country around a million dollars a year to borrow a panda, usually for about ten years, and the zoo has to recognize Chinese ownership of any offspring produced, meaning they get sent back to China, too. The closest panda bear listed is at the Memphis Zoo, and it’s supposed to go back to China this year :/
guarantee that any of this is accurate, being from Wikipedia and all, but one
thing is certainly true: they’re soooo adorable! Have a good week, everybody,
and happy birthday again to Amy! (not that she’ll actually read this