Nature & Environment
Pandas can't actually digest bamboo properly
By T.K. Randall
May 20, 2015 · 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.
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