Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Giant Panda

Ailuropoda melanoleuca


The giant panda has a round head, stocky body and short tail. The limbs, eyes, ears, nose and shoulders are black while the rest of the panda’s fur is white. The black fur can also be a chestnut-red color in some areas.


Giant pandas are only found in the Sichuan, Gansu, and Shanxi provinces of China. This species can be found in bamboo stands of montane forests, mixed coniferous and broadleaf forests. The range of panda habitat only covers 5,900 sq. km. This species do not have permanent dens, instead they take shelter in trees and caves.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

The diet of the giant panda mainly consists of bamboo leaves, stems and shoots (about 99%). They also consume kiwi, small mammals, fish and insects. Bamboo has a very low nutritional value, only 17% of the nutrients from stalks and leaves are extracted, but it is easily obtained and present all year. Giant pandas feed in an upright sitting position, using their forelegs to hold stalks of bamboo. Giant pandas have an extra, opposable “thumb” to hold bamboo. This digit is not actually a thumb but a pad of skin over the wrist bone. The teeth of the giant panda are different than other bear species in order to grind tough bamboo; the molars and premolars are wider and flatter with extensive ridges and cusps. Their gut and stomach walls are very muscular and coated with a thick layer of mucus to aid in digesting the woody bamboo.


This species mates between March and May. The female is in estrous for only 1-3 days. Giant pandas delay implantation for 1.5-4 months to ensure the cub is born during favorable climatic conditions. Cubs are born between August and September after a 1.5 month development period. 50% of births are twins, but the mother selects one to suckle and the other dies shortly after. Newborn giant panda cubs are covered in a thin layer of fur, other bear species do not have this at birth. After birth the mother helps the cub to nurse, this takes place for 30 minutes 14 times a day until they are weaned at 46 weeks. Cubs remain with their mother until they are 18 months old.

Months and Times of Activity

This species is solitary except during the breeding season. Giant pandas do not travel very far and do not move when foraging, spending 10-12 hours a day feeding. Giant pandas do not hibernate, but during winter months this species descends to lower elevations.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Giant pandas are good climbers and capable of swimming.
•    This is an endangered species. There are now only about 1,000 giant pandas living in the wild and only about 100 pandas exist in zoos. They are difficult to breed in captivity.
•    Giant pandas were hunted for fur to use as sleeping mats. It was believed that panda mats prevented ghosts and helped to predict the future during dreams.
•    Mother pandas play with their cubs; they will even wake up sleeping cubs to play.
•    To read legends featuring this animal, go to:
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: Legend of the Giant Panda by A.B. Curtiss


Bies, L. 2002. "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at