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Nature & Environment

Pandas can't actually digest bamboo properly

By T.K. Randall
May 20, 2015 · Comment icon 12 comments

Pandas have long been extremely fond of eating bamboo. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 jballeis
Despite spending most of their time eating it, bamboo gives pandas a bad case of indigestion.
Next to their critically endangered status and tendency to look cute, giant pandas are perhaps best known for eating large quantities of bamboo, a strong fibrous plant often used as a building material.

Surprisingly however researchers have now discovered that pandas are only actually able to digest around seventeen percent of the bamboo that they swallow because they lack the digestive enzymes needed to properly break it down in their stomachs.

"Unlike other plant-eating animals that have successfully evolved, anatomically specialised digestive systems to efficiently deconstruct fibrous plant matter, the giant panda still retains a gastrointestinal tract typical of carnivores," said study lead author Zhihe Zhang.
"The animals also do not have the genes for plant-digesting enzymes in their own genome."

As a result of this pandas spend up to fourteen hours a day chewing on bamboo as they attempt to eat enough of it to satisfy their nutritional needs. It is thought that the species, which evolved from bears, stopped eating meat and started to exclusively eat plants around two million years ago.

With only 1,600 individuals left however the giant panda is now at risk of disappearing forever.

Source: Telegraph | Comments (12)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #3 Posted by jarjarbinks 7 years ago
they should give them protein shakes
Comment icon #4 Posted by Imaginarynumber1 7 years ago
Two million years on a supposedly vegetarian diet. Something doesn't seem quite right here. If pandas are, and always have been, well adapted to meat eating or at least a somewhat omnivorous diet then what happened? Did their food sources leave? If so were the pandas simply unable to follow the food? Maybe this is why it is so difficult to breed them because they are not getting the nourishment they need. I don't know....just because they managed doesn't mean that they were very healthy. Why not try giving a captive panda a little meat or something to see how it affects their well-being becaus... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by RoofGardener 7 years ago
they should give them protein shakes Bacon sandwiches !
Comment icon #6 Posted by Infernal Gnu 7 years ago
Say what? This would be like cats switching from eating mice to eating bamboo. Insane. Aren't there enough local peasants around for these creatures to feed on?
Comment icon #7 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
I know I wouldn't want to have sex if I had indigestion all the time. Cure this and maybe more Pandas.
Comment icon #8 Posted by jarjarbinks 7 years ago
#6 just like humans, instead of hunting preys and getting food, we just go to McDo and become fat (extinct one day too just like the pandas)
Comment icon #9 Posted by BeastieRunner 7 years ago
So, humans aren't the only animal to eat food not good for themselves? That's kind of funny!
Comment icon #10 Posted by She-ra 7 years ago
Here's another article on this: Even though bamboo is their main food source, giant pandas are horrible at digesting it, a new study of their gut bacteria finds. A look at the giant-panda gut microbiome (bacteria living in the stomach and intestines) showed that the animals have relatively few bacteria that help digest fibrous plants such as bamboo. Instead, most of the panda's gut is covered with bacteria such as Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus, organisms typically found in meat eaters, the researchers said. Source: [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Wickian 7 years ago
Well, they better hope they survive long enough to adapt.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Podo 7 years ago
At this point I refuse to believe that pandas aren't purposely sabotaging their own survival chances.

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