The giant pandas eat bamboo shoots, leaves and culms for up to 15 hours daily. Their eating behaviour makes people wonder. The giant pandas’ diet is predominately made up of bamboo plants (99%) – other plants and small animals make up less than 1%.
These iconic animals’ main food is bamboo, but why bamboo?
So, why a bear built like a carnivore forages almost entirely on bamboos? And, why bamboo when it’s very low in nutrients and calories? Let’s put data to these questions.
Why do giant pandas eat lots of bamboo?
A study reveals that fresh bamboo shoots are high in amino acids and vitamins with some traces of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Though bamboo shoots are nutritious, they are low in calories, which is vital for providing the pandas with energy.
In fact, when we compared bamboo shoots to starchy and protein-rich foods, we realised that the bamboo shoots are ten times low in carbohydrates, fats and protein. This holds the key to why the giant pandas munch through 10 – 25 kilograms of bamboo daily.
Where do pandas get their energy and protein?
To understand the energy and protein requirements, we’ll compare the carbohydrates, fats and protein in fresh bamboo shoots to raw potatoes and tuna fish per 100 grams per serving.
Comparison of the nutrient composition of young Bambusa tulda shoots, common English potatoes (high carbo food) and Tuna (high protein food).
Fresh Bamboo Shoots
(per 100 g)
(per 100 g)
Raw Tune Fish
(per 100 g)
In perspective, for every 100 g per serving, there are:
- 3 times fewer carbohydrates in raw bamboo shoots compared to fresh potatoes.
- 10 times fewer fats in raw bamboo shoots compared to fresh potatoes.
- 6 times fewer proteins in raw bamboo shoots compared to raw tuna fish
On average, there are ten times fewer calories in bamboo shoots in every 100 grams.
Perhaps this is a broad way to look at it, but it adds to the understanding that pandas must eat a lot of bamboo shoots to get enough nutrients out of them.
Why Do Giant Pandas Eat Bamboo?
As mentioned, the giant pandas’ main source of calories (food energy) is from the carbohydrates, fats and protein in bamboos they eat.
Carbohydrates are soluble in water which means the body uses them quickly. On the other hand, fats are insoluble in water and serve as an important energy store. The body taps into this energy source when it needs it.
Naturally, the cells in the body need a consistent supply of energy food to do their work. They cannot work properly where there is a lack of carbohydrates, fat and protein uptake.
The poor pandas, who depend almost entirely on bamboo, must eat lots to meet their energy requirement.
In fact, on average, they eat 15 – 20 kilograms of bamboo daily. This is a lot of bamboos, but it is required if you think in terms of the nutrients intake per 100 grams.
Pandas eat bamboo shoots for calories, vitamins and nutrients.
Benefits of bamboo shoots to pandas
From the comparison table, we can see that the fresh bamboo shoots are low in calories (carbohydrates, saturated fats and protein) compared to potatoes and tuna fish.
As mentioned, the pandas eat 20 kg of bamboo shoots (including culms and leaves) daily to accumulate enough energy.
In other words, 20 kg of Bambusa tulda shoots per day will provide the giant pandas with:
- 1384 g carbohydrates
- 96 g fat, and
- 738 g protein.
Are these a lot of calories to take in a day?
According to NHS, the maximum calories a person should eat per day on average are
- 260 g carbohydrates,
- 70 g fats and
- 50 g protein.
Notably, an adult panda stands at 1.9 m and can weigh 150 kg to 180 kg. They are 3 – 5 times the size of an adult.
So, if we take all the other factors into consideration, we can reliably say that the giant pandas need to eat a lot of bamboos to stay healthy.
Is bamboo, really, good for pandas?
Some articles hinted that bamboos are low in nutrients. This is partly true because the culms, leaves and branches are fibrous.
However, new bamboo shoots contain relatively high protein, amino acid and vitamins. This has been verified independently by research, including the one (NAME) we used in the comparison table above.
Compared to potatoes and tuna fish, the new shoots are reasonably low in carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are important sources of energy for the cells in the body. A calory deficit will affect the pandas if they eat fewer bamboos.
Above all, bamboo shoots are high in nutrients but low in calories. Pandas have to eat a lot to stay healthy.
How many pandas are left in the wild?
A group of pandas is called an ‘embarrassment‘. Well, they are solitary animals in the wild and seldomly live in large groups. Occasionally, you’ll see them handing out together where there is food. Check out bamboo facts here.
Their disappearance is exacerbated by urbanisation and agricultural land uses. According to the WWF, there are less than 2000 pandas that remain in the wild today.
‘The giant panda habitat was once spread throughout China, northern Vietnam and northern Myanmar. But now the giant panda is found in the wild in just six isolated mountain ranges in Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan Provinces in south-central China.’ WWF
You can help to protect these iconic species by donating to WWF.
This work is based on our research to answer the questions: why do pandas eat bamboos, and why do pandas eat massive amounts of bamboos?
It uses data from reliable sources to give insights into the nutrients and calories in bamboo puts answers to the questions.