Scientists were able to decipher the mystery behind giant panda’s ability to survive on a vegetarian diet despite its relatively large size. According to a new study, they are professional energy savers, and their bodies are especially adapted to it.
For decades, the cute bears’ taste for bamboo sticks although their gut is perfectly able of digesting meat has puzzled scientists. Out of eight known bear species worldwide, these black-and-white bears originating from the misty mountains of central China are the only species to survive on a vegetarian diet. About 99 percent of what they ingest is bamboo.
But because the plant has a very low nutritional value, pandas most constantly chew on it to feel satiated throughout the entire day. They usually eat 20 lb to 39.6 lb of raw bamboo per day. Yet, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology in Beijing found another secret that helps these bears stay vegetarian.
During their research, Chinese biologists GPS tracked six wild giant pandas from the Qinling Mountains over the course of six years. The team eventually learned that giant pandas use 38 percent less energy than other similar-sized mammals. Or differently put, a 198-pound panda uses less than half of the energy a human with the same weigh does.
And the bears’ metabolism helps them a great deal in achieving that, researchers argued. The research team explained that through a series of morphological and physiological adaptations, giant pandas managed to keep their energy consumption levels at a record-breaking low.
Lead author of the study Fuwen Wei said that pandas led a quite lazy lifestyle moving less than 66 feet an hour and sleeping more than half of a day, every day. But being so slow movers is not all. They also have incredibly small internal organs including the brain, liver and kidneys that help them cut down on energy.
“These reduced organ sizes likely contribute to their low energy demands,”
the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published Friday in the journal Science.
Giant pandas’ bodies also produce low amounts of thyroid hormones so their metabolic processes are incredibly slowed down. And that affects gestation in females, as well. Female pandas gestate 2 to 3 months, while other bear species need six months to give birth to their cubs. Moreover, panda cubs are mini-sized and weigh about three times less than other species.
Giant pandas are currently on the endangered species list with only 1,600 bears left in the wild.
Image Source: Men of Men minus Men
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