What Do Pandas Eat — Bamboo, Fruits, Meat

What Do Pandas Eat — Bamboo, Fruits, Meat

By Chris QuanUpdated Oct. 27, 2021

Bamboo is pandas’ favorite food: more than 99% of their diet is bamboo.

But how much bamboo do pandas eat every day? Apart from bamboo, what do pandas eat? Do pandas eat meat? All the secrets about pandas' diet are revealed in this article.

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Pandas Eat LOTS of Bamboo

Panda eating bamboo

Pandas like eating arrow bamboo, black bamboo, and 'water bamboo', along with about 20 other species. They prefer bamboo roots, shoots, and leaves, especially shoots.

Pandas eat different types and parts of bamboo according to the season. In spring and summer, they like eating different kinds of shoots; in autumn, they enjoy the leaves of bamboo; in winter, their main diet is bamboo roots.

With very little nutritional value in bamboo, pandas must eat 23–40 kg (50–90 lb) every day to meet their energy needs.

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What Do Pandas Eat Besides Bamboo?

Our panda volunteers are making panda cakes.Our panda volunteers are making panda cakes.

Pandas also eat fruits (they love apples the most), meat (small mammals), vegetables like carrots and ginseng, and fungus.

Captive pandas are also fed nutritious "panda cakes" and steamed corn bread. In the hot summer, they are fed ice with apples inside it to cool them down. The food is strictly selected, going through several rounds of examination before being fed to pandas, to make sure the pandas get enough nutrition and that it is healthy for the pandas.

Wild pandas prefer hunting for pikas (small mountain rabbits), bamboo rats, and other small rodents as the last part of their diet. Though pandas are not very fast, injured and wounded animals are catchable by pandas.

The Eating Timetable of Pandas

panda lying on the bamboo

Giant pandas spend over 10 hours a day eating and foraging. Because they have a shorter gut (typical of carnivores), which is not efficient at processing vegetation, they need to keep eating that long to ensure they have enough energy. A typical panda day goes like this:

  • 2–8am: eating/foraging (6 hours)
  • 8–10:30am: sleeping
  • 10:30–11am: playing
  • 11am–12pm: eating (1 hour)
  • 12–2:30pm: sleeping
  • 2:30–9pm: eating/foraging (6½ hours)
  • 9pm–2am: sleeping

Captive pandas are fed a richer diet and don't have to look for food, so spend less time eating and more time sleeping. Normally, captive pandas are fed at 8–9am and 3–4pm every day. To avoid visiting the pandas when they're asleep, you are suggested to visit around feeding time.

What Do Baby Pandas Eat?

Baby pandasOne-year-old baby pandas

Baby pandas drink their mother’s milk until they are six months old and then they start eating bamboo.

Pandas have very little breast milk. So captive panda cubs are fed milk made from a mixture of milk, powdered milk, and various vitamins. 

What Do Red Pandas Eat?

Red pandas eating pumpkinsRed pandas are eating pumpkins

Red pandas, more similar to raccoons than bears, are a totally different species to giant pandas. They also like to eat arrow bamboo, but also wild fruits, tree leaves, moss, and prey on birds or bird eggs, and other small animals and insects.

They especially like to eat sweet foods, such as apples and pumpkins. Red pandas are currently the only non-primates that can taste sweeteners. 

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FAQs about Giant Pandas’ Diet

1. Why Do Pandas Like to Eat Bamboo?

Bamboo is widely distributed and easily available in the wild. It is available all year around. Bamboo is rich in starch and can provide pandas with enough energy… if they eat a lot. That’s why pandas like to eat bamboo.

2. Do Pandas Eat Meat?

Yes, pandas can eat meat though now they are recognized as vegetarian. Pandas occasionally eat meat (usually carcasses, and sometimes bamboo rats).

3. Why Pandas' Diet Changed — from Meat to Bamboo

It is the result of environmental and genetic changes.

Pandas have canine teeth and possess the digestive system of a carnivore.

Fossil evidence, or lack thereof, suggests that about 7 million years ago, environmental changes killed off most of giant pandas' predecessors’ prey. Without any other choice, they became more and more vegetarian.

Fossilized panda skulls and paws and radio carbon dating show giant pandas had completely evolved to being bamboo eaters from 2 million years ago.

4. What Do Pandas Drink?

Pandas drink fresh water from rivers and streams.

Pandas drink water once or twice a day. Because bamboo shoots are more than 60 percent water, pandas can get water while eating bamboo shoots.

In spring, when bamboo shoots are plentiful, they can go without drinking water for a day or two. 

Want to Make a Meal for Pandas?

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In our Panda Volunteer Program, you can make cakes in different shapes for the pandas and feed a panda with your own hands. It is a good chance to learn about the cute pandas’ feeding habits and get close to them.

Contact us if you have any questions or requirements: we are confident that we can design a panda experience to suit you.

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