Have you ever found yourself wondering why you were not born panda — sitting on a tree branch all day, eating bamboo and doing nothing? A recent study on the metabolism of giant pandas, however, found out that the animal requires low energy use daily — a reason why it can simply live off a vegetarian diet.
Only 1,800 pandas left
The giant Panda is a rare animal and it is classified as a conservation-reliant endangered species. It is native to south-central China and it is believed that only 1,800 are remaining in the wild. The animal’s diet is made up of 99% bamboo, and they sometimes feed off of with other grasses and wild tubers.
By tracking the daily life of five captive pandas and three wild ones, the study, which was published in the journal Science last Thursday, discovered that the energy expenditure of pandas is as sluggish as that of sloths. This study, in fact, suggests that pandas use only about 38 percent of the energy which is usually used by smaller-sized animals.
More sluggish than sloths
According to the research: “The giant pandas’ energy measurements are among the lowest (relative to body mass) ever made for mammals not in torpor, which is a sort of suspended animation. The daily energy expenditure values for giant pandas are substantially lower than those for koalas, for example, and more akin to those of three-toed sloths”.
Scientists found out that the low-energy demand of pandas is also due to the size of their brains, livers and kidneys which are substantially smaller if compared to those of other bears. Also, the levels of thyroid hormone of giant pandas are very low and are comparable to those of an hibernating black bear. The thyroid hormones play a big role in regulating body weight and energy, therefore low levels could be considered the reason why pandas are so sluggish.
Not “couch potatoes” after all
So, although the stomach of a giant panda is perfectly structured and equipped for meat, the animal’s exceptionally low energy consumption and metabolism rates lead to a bamboo-based diet only. So, while we were all thinking that pandas are just “couch potatoes” doing nothing but eating green sticks, they are actually just following their daily energy requirements.