The red panda is a cat-sized carnivorous mammal that lives in temperate mountain forests of the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. The red panda shares its name, habitat, and diet with the giant panda.
Red pandas are voracious bamboo eaters, which is the central part of their diet. Red pandas are carnivores and will eat insects, birds, and rodents to supplement their diet. Red pandas have behavioral and physiological adaptations to survive on their vegetarian diet. They usually drink water once daily, although most of their water requirements come from bamboo.
Red pandas are not related to giant pandas, skunks, or raccoons and are placed in a family called Ailuridae.
In this article, I will discuss the red panda’s diet and how it has adapted to its low-nutritious bamboo diet.
What Do Red Pandas Eat?
Red pandas are considered carnivores, although they have evolved to eat bamboo almost exclusively. 95% of a red panda’s diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves. Red pandas prefer to eat the leaves and young shoots rather than the more rigid stalks.
Red pandas usually eat bamboo leaves during winter, but in spring, they eat fresh bamboo shoots. They consume roots, grass, fruits, acorns, small insects, bird eggs, and worms in the fall.
A red panda that is pregnant requires a diet with higher protein. To get the extra protein, pregnant red pandas will consume more insects and, on rare occasions, birds or small rodents.
Because of how much bamboo red pandas must consume daily, zoos and wildlife centers must ensure they have ample resources.
Since obtaining so much bamboo might be difficult, these facilities generally rely on biscuits or other food sources to recreate a wild red panda’s optimum diet in captivity.
Unlike those in the wild, red pandas in captivity are given bananas, apples, and other types of fruit to supplement their diet for proper nutrition.
How Have Red Pandas Adapted To Their Diet?
Red Pandas have specific adaptations to survive on their diet. Let us discuss the adaptations in detail.
⦁ A special thumb, called a fake panda’s thumb, is one of the red panda’s adaptations to the bamboo-eating diet. A bone in the wrist has grown larger and extended as a result of thousands of years of evolution, allowing red pandas to grip and manipulate bamboo with incredible precision.
⦁ Red pandas have huge skulls and molars, allowing for more efficient chewing. They also have strong jaws and chewing muscles that help chew thick and fibrous bamboo.
⦁ The red panda has long, white whiskers on its snout and superb vision, smell, and hearing. Whiskers help the red panda navigate through dense vegetation at night when it is most actively looking for food.
⦁ Due to the poor nutritional content of bamboo, the red panda has a slow metabolism and spends much of its day foraging. Red pandas are only active for around half of the day because of the lack of carbohydrates.
⦁ Red pandas may go dormant in extremely cold conditions, reducing their metabolic rate and restoring it every few hours as they wake up to hunt for food. This adaptation allows red pandas to use almost as little energy as sloths, which is advantageous given their diet’s low nutritional value.
There have been no adaptations in their gastrointestinal tract. Despite their preference for bamboo, red pandas have the digestive tract of a carnivore, with a small gut lacking the microbes needed to digest fibrous plant material efficiently.
The lengthy intestine of most herbivores allows bacteria enough time and room to digest nutrient-poor plant matter. Food travels swiftly through the red panda’s small intestines, requiring only 2–4 hours. This short time means they can only digest around 25% of leaves and 45% of shoots.
How Much Food Do Red Pandas Eat Per Day?
Bamboo leaves provide 13.2 percent protein, 3.4 percent fat, and 3.3 percent soluble carbohydrate, making them a low-nutrition, high-fiber meal.
A female red panda was reputedly said to have consumed 20,000 bamboo leaves in a single day. Since red pandas can only digest around 25% of bamboo, they need to eat a lot of it.
They consume up to 20% to 30% of their body weight in bamboo. They consume between two to four pounds (1 to 2 kg) of bamboo leaf tips and shoots daily.
How Much Do Red Pandas Drink?
According to research conducted in 2001, 79 % of red pandas were located within 100 meters of a body of water, implying that a good water source is vital to their habitat requirements.
Bamboo leaves contain 60% water and are consumed by red pandas primarily as their staple diet. They only drink water once daily as the bamboo intake fulfills most of the water requirements.
The red panda is an endangered species, with only 10,000 individuals left in the wild. Habitat loss is a significant factor that makes red pandas vulnerable. Due to the dependency of the red panda on bamboo as a diet, the red panda may be more susceptible to bamboo loss, and this vulnerability may become serious during bamboo flowering periods.
Efforts should be made to plant alternate bamboo species, regulate bamboo harvesting, and manage red panda habitat connectivity.