Interesting Facts About Giant Pandas For Kids
Who doesn’t love the fluffy and adorable panda bears? Here are some fun and interesting facts about pandas for kids − their habitat, features, behaviour, food habits, social structure and lifespan.
By Dr Shyam Kumar
A good name is better than a good face. — Chinese proverb
The giant panda has both, a cute name and a cute face. And, when kids see it, there is ‘pandemonium’!
If there were a poll on the world’s most adorable animal, there is every chance the giant panda would top the list. With its soft fluffy body, round face, black eye patches, snub nose and waddling gait, the panda is overloaded with the cuteness factor. No wonder the panda bear is every child’s favourite stuffed toy. The giant panda even gets to play the superhero protagonist ‘Po’ in the hugely successful Kung Fu Panda franchise.
However, belying its popularity, the giant panda is categorised as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In fact, the panda population is estimated to be only 2,000, of which 1,600 inhabit the bamboo forests in the mountainous regions of central China and the rest live in captivity.
General panda facts
The panda family
Although we all love the giant panda, not many of us know about panda facts and information like its physical characteristics, diet, habitat and life span. Disagreeing with this statement? Well, try answering these two questions: What’s the Chinese name for panda? If that's a tough one, then try this. How did the animal get the name ‘panda’? Not sure again?
- The Chinese call it Xióngmāo (bear cat in Mandarin), but no one is sure about the origin of the word ‘panda’. Some say ‘panda’ may have its origin in the Nepali word ‘nigalya ponya’, which means ‘bamboo eater’.
- But, what’s in a name? The panda bear also known as the parti-coloured bear, bamboo bear and white bear, belongs to the family Ursidae, subfamily Ailuropodinae, genus Ailuropoda and species Ailuropoda melanoleuca.
- It is the only living member of the genus Ailuropoda. Although, scientists previously believed the panda to be from the racoon family, DNA testing proved that it’s a member of the bear family.
Physical features of the giant panda
- The adult panda bear can grow up to a height of 6 feet and can weigh around 100kg. The female is usually smaller.
- Parts of the panda’s face, neck and torso are white which stands out against the contrasting black colour around the eyes and on the ears, shoulders, limbs and tail.
- To help it remain warm in the cool forest environment, nature has blessed the panda with a thick woolly coat.
- Apart from walking on all fours and climbing trees to seek shelter during the winter, the giant panda can also stand on its hind legs. It has a waddling gait owing to its rear paws pointing inward.
- A striking feature present in the front paws of the giant panda is a thumb-like projection. It is nothing but an enlarged wrist bone. This pseudo-thumb, along with the 5 fingers, helps the panda hold and eat bamboo twigs.
- But, although bamboo belongs to the grass family, it is not soft and spongy. In fact, it is quite hard. However, that doesn’t worry the panda much as it has very broad and flat molars and premolars. These can slice and crush even the thickest bamboo stalk and leaves.
- The giant panda also has a heightened sense of smell. It uses this ability to identify other panda bears in the vicinity or sniff out a female during the mating season.
- Although the panda appears like an amicable animal, it does like to mark its territory. And, it does this with the help of a scent gland located below its tail.
Habitat of the giant panda
- In the past, the habitat of the giant panda extended from central and southern China to neighbouring Vietnam and Burma. However, the panda’s habitat has shrunk remarkably. Now, it’s only found in the mountain forests of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces in southwestern China.
- Most of the pandas surviving in the wild can be found in the mountains of Minshan followed by a few in the Qinling mountains. Pandas like to live in the dense undergrowth of bamboo found under coniferous trees at elevations between 5,000 and 11,000 feet.
- Giant pandas are solitary animals that typically occupy a small territory and move around in a 5km radius in search of food and shelter. In the winter, they seek shelter in hollow trees.
Panda diet / food habits
- Pandas love to munch on bamboo and consume approximately 12kg of it in a day to satisfy their dietary needs. Since bamboo is low in nutrients, they need to consume it in greater quantities. Pandas like to snack on the sprouting shoots and new leaves of the bamboo plant which contain a higher amount of nutrients.
- Pandas are omnivorous mammals and occasionally eat flowers, fish and small animals to supplement their diet when bamboo is scarce.
- They like to sit in a relaxed position while eating and hold on to the bamboo stalks with their front paws. The panda’s teeth are specially adapted to crush the tough and fibrous bamboo into pieces.
- Unlike other bears, pandas do not hibernate as they do not store fat, and keep moving in search of food.
Sleeping habits of the giant panda
- The giant panda usually rests for 8 to 12 hours a day in between meals. This is due to their inefficient digestive system which is unable to digest the fibre-rich bamboo diet. As a result, pandas must conserve their energy and take frequent naps between meals.
- While sleeping, pandas assume either a sprawled or curled-up position.
- They also sleep on their sides, belly or back.
- Some pandas have been observed to take short naps while perched precariously on tree branches.
- Giant pandas defecate multiple times during sleep.
Why do giant pandas have black and white markings?
- Giant pandas have a unique black and white appearance. The exact purpose of these black and white markings has been a topic for research by biologists.
- According to Caro et al’s study, ‘Why is the giant panda black and white?’, there are two possible reasons – camouflage and communication.
- While white areas of the panda’s body provide camouflage in a snowy background, the black colouration helps the giant panda hide in the shady environments of the dense bamboo undergrowth.
- Since pandas have a largely blank facial expression, the distinctive black and white colouration on the face and head may play a role in communication. While the dark eye patches help them identify each other, the erect dark ears and big eye patches may possibly signal aggressive intent towards predators.
How do giant pandas communicate?
Research suggests that pandas communicate by making a variety of vocalisations based on whether they are fighting, eating, signalling the intention to mate or sensing a threat.
- A lamb-like bleating sound is often used as a greeting.
- They bark and growl to show aggression.
- To attract a female panda, the male may produce a ‘baa’ sound like that of a sheep.
- The female pandas let out a bird-like tweeting when anxious about their cubs.
- Baby pandas produce a ‘gee-gee’ sound when hungry and a ‘wow-wow’ when unhappy.
Some of these vocalisations were deciphered by Chinese scientists during a five-year study of ‘panda language’ at a panda conservation centre.
By and large, pandas are sedentary and like to keep away from other pandas. They use their acute sense of smell to identify the presence of other pandas in their territory and try to avoid them. If at all a confrontation takes place between two pandas, it involves growling, biting and swatting at each other until one of them decides to leave.
- Giant pandas mark their territory with the waxy substance secreted from their scent glands. Spraying urine and leaving claw marks on trees are other means to communicate. Other pandas sniff out this marker to identify signals like the sex, age or reproductive status.
- According to recent research, pandas have been found to socialise in groups of 8 to 15 individuals. They occasionally communicate within the group based on scent marks, vocalisations and meetings but stay away from members of other groups.
- Panda reproduction behaviour is marked by seasonality. This is the only period when male pandas seek out the females and leave once mating is over. The female panda gives birth to one or two cubs and takes care of them alone.
- The giant pandas have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years in the wild and can live up to 30 years in captivity.
Facts about baby panda bears
- Like their cousins, the bears, giant panda babies are also called cubs. At birth, newborn panda cubs weigh between 90 and 130g.
- The cubs are born blind, devoid of any fur and are pink in colour. They are able to see only after 50 to 60 days and begin to crawl at 10 weeks of age.
- The cubs start eating bamboo between 7 to 9 months of age. Panda cubs stay with their mothers until they are up to 3 years of age.
- Although giant pandas do not have any predators owing to their large size, the babies are vulnerable to preying by eagles, feral dogs and snow leopards.
Are giant pandas related to red pandas?
- The giant panda is in no way related to the red panda although they may share names, habitat and even the same bamboo diet.
- The red panda is only the size of a cat with a long bushy ringed tail. It belongs to an entirely different family (Ailuridae) and is known by its scientific name Ailurus fulgens.
- The red panda also has an extended wrist bone like the giant panda, designed to hold bamboo stalks while chewing on them. But unlike the giant panda, the red panda has a varied diet that includes fruits, eggs, acorn and roots.
- The red panda inhabits the high-altitude forests of Nepal, northern Burma as well as China. In fact, the habitats of giant and red pandas overlap in the province of Sichuan, China.
- The red panda is listed as an endangered species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Panda conservation status
- The number of giant pandas in the wild has dwindled owing to loss or destruction of their habitat by human activities like farming and logging, and building houses for human habitation.
- Over the last decade or two, the People’s Republic of China in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has taken several measures to conserve this endangered species to bring it back from the brink of extinction.
- As part of policies like the Natural Forest Protection Programme and Sloping Land Conversion Programme, cultivated lands were taken over and locals resettled elsewhere to restore the forest cover that served as the giant panda’s natural habitat.
- Today, there are 63 nature reserves in China dedicated to panda conservation, the most prominent of them being the Wolong National Nature Reserve established in 1963. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Chengdu Panda Base) is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas located in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
- As a result of all these conservative measures, the number of pandas in the wild has risen from 1,300 to around 2,000 at present. In September 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) downgraded the giant panda from the status of ‘endangered’ species to the ‘vulnerable’ status.
Pandas in literature and films
Books about pandas
- The Panda Problem (by Deborah Underwood)
- If You Were a Panda Bear (by Florence Minor)
- Panda Kindergarten (by Joanne Ryder)
- National Geographic Readers: Level 2 – Pandas (by Anne Schreiber)
- Unicorn and Panda: An Unlikely Pair (by Annie Su)
- Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas (by Ami Vitale)
Movies on pandas
- Kung Fu Panda series (2008, 2011 and 2016)
- It's a Pandaful Life (2017, documentary)
- Sneezing Baby Panda (2015)
- The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995)
- Pandas: The Journey Home (2014, documentary)
- Chop Kick Panda (2011)
Fun facts about pandas
Here are some awesome facts about giant pandas:
- The giant panda’s scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca, which means 'black and white cat-foot'.
- Pandas have lived on earth for more than two million years.
- Pandas are members of the bear family but 99% of their diet constitutes bamboo.
- They may appear clumsy and slow, but when in danger the giant panda can run as fast as 32 km per hour.
- Pandas are considered a symbol of peace in China since the time of the Western Jin Dynasty.
- The adorable fluffy panda is one of the most precious animals in the world and considered a national treasure in China.
- The western world first discovered the giant panda in 1869 when a French missionary Armand David happened to see it in Baoxing, Sichuan Province, and shipped it to Europe.
- In 1961, the giant panda ‘Chi Chi’ of the London zoo was made the mascot of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
- October 27 is designated as the International Panda Day by WWF China.
The giant panda bear is loved by everyone. It is important that your children understand the importance of conserving these playful, cuddly and curious animals as well as their habitat.
If you found this article to be interesting and informative, why not share it with your family and friends? Also leave us your valuable comments.
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 11 December 2019
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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