Episode 188 – Giant Panda: The Bamboo Bandit

“…and today we’re talking about a great big plant-based carnivore, but more on that later.”

When you have a particular problem you call in a specialist. In nature, specialists give up traditional paths to get very good at one thing. It usually refers to the place they live and the food they eat. In China’s mountain forests, a vegetarian carnivore has decided to go green. But investing all your resources into a single opportunity makes you vulnerable to changes in the market. The giant panda is a rare treasure in nature, but shifts in their home land have threatened the pandas Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Giant Panda

  • Pandas are small bears with rotund bodies, relatively short limbs, and large heads
  • Like orcas, penguins, zebras, and the infamous hamburglar, they are exclusively dressed in a chic black and white tux. Because if you’re thinking about bein’ my brother, it don’t matter if you’re black or white.
    • Their bodies are white while their legs are black. 
    • They have a black strip going up over their front shoulders and across their backs
    • They have white heads with black patches on their ears and eyes. Researchers think that pandas might use the eye spots to identify each other.
  • Poe also has an opposable thumb that he uses to grip his food, execute the wushi finger hold, and leave social credit rankings for his peers.
  • There is also a recently-discovered subspecies of giant panda called the Qinling Panda, which is exactly the same but with brown fur instead of black

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!

  1. Giraffe
  2. Water buffalo
  3. Raven
  4. White tailed deer


  • 1.2 to 1.9 metres (3 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 3 inches)
  • How many pandas go into the Ming Great Wall?
  • Hint: The Ming Great Wall is part of the Great Wall of China that was built by the Ming dynasty. It starts at the Jaiyu Pass and connects with the Hushan Great Wall in Manchuria. 
  • 4,657,894 pandas. The Ming wall is 8,850 km (5,500 mi).


  • Males can weigh as much as 160 kg (350 lb).
  • In captivity, pandas sometimes eat yams. How many of the world’s largest sweet potatoes go into Pandas?
  • Hint: The yoked yam was grown in 2002 in Lanarote, Spain by Manuel Perez Perez. 
  • 4.3 big yams. The yam was 37 kg (81 lb 9 oz).

Fast Facts About the Giant Panda

  • Range: Lives in a very small section of central China
  • China sometimes used to give pandas to countries as diplomacy gifts in what was aptly termed “panda diplomacy”. Americans had “gunboat diplomacy” and they have “panda diplomacy”
    • However, now they are just rented out for 10-year periods. It costs $1m per year to rent one and all cubs born are China’s property.
  • Part of the difficulty of keeping pandas in captivity is that they only have one cub every two years and they tend to lose interest in mating once behind bars.
    • Scientists have even given them panda viagra and shown them videos of other pandas mating to get gears turning.
  • Also, despite being bears, they don’t hibernate – they don’t even establish permanent dens. Instead, they spend their lives roaming and looking for food. 
    • If it gets too cold, they’ll either move to a warmer area or cover themselves in horse manure
  • Their average life span is between 20-30 years since they don’t have any natural predators as adults, but as cubs they need to watch out for snow leopards, martens (weasels), eagles, dogs, and the Asian black bear.
  • It poops 40 times a day.

Major Fact: A Specialist Boy

Taxonomically, giant pandas are carnivores, but they eat a diet that is almost entirely made up of bamboo.

They fall into the carnivore category based on their kin and genetics. If you look at them. They’re bears and they are built like bears. 

But they gave up all that bothersome chasing and killing in favor of a more stationary prey. The problem with that is that they still have the body and digestive system of a carnivore that’s meant to eat meat. 

Because of that, they don’t have the extra stomachs like bovids or other plant eaters. They can’t sap bamboo of all the little nutrition it offers. 

Bamboo is essential grass that became a tree. It’s very low in protein and high in fiber. Like other carnivores, pandas can’t digest fiber that well so it doesn’t offer a ton of nutritional value. 

So, you might think, that means it’s time to find another food source. But the panda said, “yeah but what about even more bamboo?”

Pandas spend half the day eating and eat around 20 to 40 pounds of food every day. They supplement with other fruit and meat that makes up about 1% of their diet.

When they aren’t eating, they are resting and pooping — sometimes at the same time. 

But their poop looks like round green stones. A closer look would reveal that it’s just a clump of undigested bamboo. 

Part of the reason pandas are born so tiny is because their diets are so low in nutrition. Because they lack nutrients, pandas have a generally low blood-oxygen level. So babies have to come out early in order to breathe. But mom has one trick up her sleeves. 

When a baby panda is born, their intestines are sterile. What does that mean?

Animals, including you and me, have bacteria in your gut. This bacteria is essential in helping you break down food during digestion. Pandas are born bacteria free. But all their mothers have to do is give them some of her little green stones.

Yup. Baby pandas eat their mother’s feces to seed their own gut biome. Mom’s give their children a little green gift of bacteria that allows babies to live the bamboo lifestyle. 

Ending: So stay on the move, cover yourself in horse manure if it gets too cold, and you can have me hat, you can have me shoe but you never want to bother with the old bamboo like the panda here in LDT