When you think of a panda, you probably imagine an adorable bear munching on a stick of bamboo. In fact, even when I ate cooked bamboo as a kid, pandas were the very first thing that would come to mind.
That’s because bamboo is the main food source for pandas and they spend about 14 hours a day eating it. So it’s a little heartbreaking to discover that their giant bellies have trouble digesting it. Just imagine eating your favorite food every day knowing you’ll be constantly bloated and constipated — not a pleasant feeling.
According to Zhihe Zhang, the director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China, pandas do not have the proper plant-digesting enzymes to break down bamboo. This is also what increases their risk for extinction.
“Unlike other plant-eating animals that have successfully evolved anatomically specialized digestive systems to efficiently deconstruct fibrous plant matter, the giant panda still retains a gastrointestinal tract typical of carnivores,” says Zhang.
The research Zhang and his colleagues conducted shows that pandas digest only about 17 percent of their daily intake of bamboo; this tells us that these animals are in an evolutionary dilemma because for some reason, their stomachs haven’t adjusted to their diet.
Poor things. But don’t fret just yet! Additional research will be conducted so we can learn more about the panda’s bacteria and microbes that affect their health and nutrition.
Feature image courtesy of Wikipedia.