What is a giant panda bear’s main food source?

And the answer: bamboo shoots.  
Photo credit: J. Patrick Fischer

Due to its nutritionally poor diet of bamboo shoots, the carnivorous panda is unable to hibernate. Its black and white pattern is the result of an evolutionary compromise so pandas can protect themselves year-round. Their black fur allows them to retain heat while their white fur allows them to camouflage in the snow.

While some humans might burn red in the summer and appear bright white in the winter, pandas have their own, far more advantageous mechanism of camouflage. Giant pandas’ black fur not only helps them stay warm in the winter, but also helps them blend into the shade in the summer. The same applies the other way around, too—giant pandas’ white fur helps them keep cool in the hotter days, and blend into the snow in the colder months.

Giant pandas are not only cute, but they’re also good swimmers and excellent climbers. At 5 months old, giant panda cubs are already learning how to climb—largely practicing by climbing on their mom. Giant pandas are born with an extended wrist bone that is used like a thumb to grip food and climb trees. Luckily, too, as eating for 10-15 hours a day would be a whole lot harder without it.

Did you know?

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has had giant pandas for over 50 years! The Zoo’s first pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were a gift from Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to the American people in 1972. The pandas were sent to the United States after First Lady Patricia Nixon mentioned how much she loved them at a dinner in Beijing, China, earlier that year.

Learn more about giant pandas here.


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