Pandas are not useless, there is way more than meets the eye!
Pandas. Billed as gentle giants with a pretty chill attitude to life, pandas look like the ideal lifestyle animal.
But are they?
Claws, paws, and jaws
If we zoom in on a panda’s paws, we can see the strength in their “hands” – and some pretty serious claws. While these are ideal for stripping bamboo, they’re also strong, sharp, and dangerous. Despite their gentle reputation, pandas have been known to get into it, with males fighting for dominance or competing for their lady love.
Pandas also have some pretty deadly teeth. With back teeth around seven times the size of ours and the jaw bone to support them, they can generate a lot of force. While these teeth are excellent for chowing down on bamboo, a panda’s digestive system is actually designed like those of other carnivores. Even though their diets are 99% bamboo, they can and do hunt, and have been known to scavenge off left over carcasses. In China, there have even been reports of wild pandas breaking into farms to eat livestock.
They can’t taste mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, or aged cheeses properly
Pandas belong to the Order Carnivora and are closely related to a lot of heavy meat eaters. So why the bamboo?
It’s all a matter of taste according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Tas1r1, the gene that lets us taste umami, is inactive in pandas. Umami is responsible for a “meaty” taste, meaning that without an active gene, pandas have less incentive to eat meat.
Umami is also responsible for the deep and recognisable flavours we taste in shiitakes, parmesan, and tomatoes. And without at least one of those, life seems barely worth living.
They’re not really into Netflix and chill
In the wild, pandas are active breeders, though significant habitat loss has reduced the number of pandas in the wild. Male pandas hang out in specific areas, and females head on over when they go into heat. It’s all a very active process.
In captive breeding programs, pandas lack social skills. Males and females don’t know how to act around one another, and little happens. Almost all new panda cubs over the past decade or so are the result of IVF.
Their young need a lot of help. A lot, a lot.
Like other bears, pandas give birth to “underdeveloped young”. Remember that baby panda sneezing video on YouTube? Look at the size of the cub. And that cub wasn’t a newborn. It was a toddler.
At birth, a panda cub is a little pink jellybean, about 1/900th of the size of mama bear. Cubs keep their eyes tightly shut until 6 to 8 weeks old, and nurses for up to 9 months.
Now, imagine you’re a mama with a jellybean for a baby. How do you feed it? How do you keep it warm without crushing it? How do you remember where you put it down when you run to the loo?
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