Pandas Have The Digestive Systems Of Carnivores

“If a panda gets struck by lightning, its white hair turns black and its black hair turns white, and they’re known as negative pandas.” —David O’Doherty, comedian

In A Nutshell

Despite some confusion, tests have proven that the giant panda is genetically a bear (though scientists are still arguing about it). It also has a carnivore’s digestive system, designed for eating meat. However, in the wild, the panda feeds almost exclusively on bamboo. It manages to survive because it hosts an extraordinary set of microbes in its gut that breaks the plant material down.

The Whole Bushel

Especially adorable, pandas are among the world’s most beloved creatures. Although known in their native China since antiquity, the panda has been known in the West for less than 150 years. They have been the subject of much taxonomic confusion over the ensuing decades as they share traits of both bears and members of the raccoon family. However, advances in molecular genetics have determined that it is indeed a member of the Ursidae, or bear family.

Herbivorous mammals such as cows and deer have long, complicated digestive systems with which to draw the energy from plant material. The panda’s digestive system is short, like those of other carnivores. How then is it able to survive on bamboo, a type of grass? Studies have shown that the panda actually has unique microbes in its gut that help to break down the plants into usable energy. The system is so unique that it is being analyzed by scientists as a means of creating more efficient biofuels.

Precisely how and why the panda evolved in this fashion is unknown. One of the more plausible theories is that the panda once maintained a variegated diet like other bears, but competition with more fearsome predators like tigers, leopards, and black bears drove them into the remote mountains, where they were forced to subsist on bamboo. This was probably the first step on the path to functional extinction; pandas are poor breeders, and there are only a handful left between zoos and remote mountain regions of China.

Ed.: We’d like to clarify that the featured quote is, in fact, a joke from O’Doherty’s humorous book of fake panda facts.

Show Me The Proof

How Do Pandas Survive on Bamboo?
Smithsonian: Could Panda Poop Be the Secret to More Efficient Biofuel?
Discovery: The Giant Panda Debate — Bear or Raccoon?
NatGeo: Giant Pandas

  • bob mcbobberson

    that last sentence makes me a sad panda

    • HockeyFan69

      We don’t take kindly to panda bears ’round here.

      • Chester

        Now Skeeter he aint hurting anyone

        • sumshine213


  • Hadeskabir

    Some species are made to be extinct. We shouldn’t try to save them, if they are too weak to survive, just let them go extinct. That’s how evolution works.

    • bob mcbobberson

      There’s truth to that but as humans we do things just for our own sake sometimes. People like pandas, so why not save them.

      • Chester

        Money that could be better spent preserving animals that we are making go extinct? Including the purchasing of land for sanctuaries, research and breeding programs.

        • bob mcbobberson

          3 issues I have with that Chester.

          1. why are those animals more worth saving than Pandas? Because WE are outcompeting as oppose to other animals? Seems like working against yourself to simultaneously destroy a species AND try to save it. It would be far more productive to cease the activity that is endangering them.

          2. Poaching and habitat loss are 2 of the reasons they are endangered anyway, so we can include pandas in the groups of animals WE are endagering.

          3. I don’t buy into this myth that if people stop spending money on one cause, that money would automatically flow into a better cause. the real world just doesn’t work like that.

          • Chester

            ok 3 answer for ya bobo

            1. Because pandas are not an integral part of their eco system, they dont do anything other than munch on one of the fastest growing most abundant plants on the planet, they refuse to fuck and often times could care less about their offspring, their gene pool is so bottle necked and they are barely a bear…natures kinda saying let this one go.

            2. The main reason they are endangered isnt from poaching its from the fact their to stupid to breed and apparently like 1 kind of bamboo (that has less nutrients in it than my feces) over another type.

            3. Money thats not spent on a panda might not all go to better causes but if some does its better than what is currently going to them, just because people think pandas are cute is no reason to keep propping these “bears” up.

          • Hadeskabir

            I have to agree with you. That is totally right.

          • bob mcbobberson

            1&2, I think you don’t really understand the breeding issue. They are not endangered because after hundreds of thousands of years they simply stopped breeding, true they have a slow breeding rate and that’s what makes them so susceptible to human activity. The major threats are still poaching and habitat loss. If the wild pandas are left with less land than they can subsist on or are poached into extinction then they will be lost forever, because they don’t breed well IN CAPTIVITY.

            It may be too late for them now, but without humans these animals would never have become endangered. Even now if their land was protected and they were not hunted, they might still survive in the wild. The breeding program is because we don’t expect people to let that to happen.

            3. Yeah it might, but it also might not. Most of the money to conserve species comes from donations. People aren’t going to donate money to an endangered worm no matter how vital it is to ecosystems. But if the charity receives money on the back of Panda fame they can at least spread some of it around. There’s a reason the World Wildlife Fund uses a panda for it’s logo.

          • Chester

            So because they wont fuck and are almost asexual its our fault..maybe if they ate some meat once in a while theyd have a higher sex drive and be able to nurture their young more efficiently..Either way pandas are a waste of time.

  • Chester

    Pandas are the D student that eats the paint chips in the back of class at kindergarten just totally hopeless.

  • adamhs

    Not only do pandas eat only bamboo, they only eat a SPECIFIC type of bamboo. That coupled with the fact that they have to play “panda porn” for pandas in captivity to procreate…Darwinism doesn’t bode well for these creatures.

  • inconspicuous detective

    well look at the teeth and anatomy. this shouldn’t surprise anyone, they’re still evolving away from being carnivores.

  • The Ou7law

    I have an amazingly weird digestive system i can eat a dollar and shat quarters