Examples of panda adaptations include a strong pair of legs, extra toes, thick fur, and smooth molars. These adaptations allowed them to thrive in snowy places and survive on bamboo, a rarity for herbivores.
Although pandas look cute, they did not adapt to be this way. Pandas may look nice, but they are still bears that have the power to severely hurt a threat. Below are some of the adaptations of the panda that allowit to live a peaceful vegetarian life.
1. Strong Digestive System
Pandas have a different digestive system—so powerful that they can digest bamboo, a plant with high cellulose content.
Humans and many animals do not have this capacity. The panda, however, has linings in its esophagus and digestive tract that serves as protection against the bamboo.
On the inside, the panda’s body is built like a carnivorous bear. Half of the calories of a panda is protein, which makes it similar to the protein requirement of wolves and big cats. Because of this, pandas eat a lot of leaves to meet their protein requirements.
2. Behavioral Adaptations
Pandas learned how to migrate to warmer areas when it is cold. Every year, pandas get off the mountains to stay warm. Pandas are bears, and they have thick fur. However, they still need to get warm as they are not built like polar bears.
Pandas also know where to find the bamboo. It is the reason they move up to the mountains—these are places where they can find adequate supplies of bamboo leaves and bamboo shoots.
3. Six Toes
Pandas have six fingers. They have five digits, but they evolved what is called an opposable pseudo-thumb, which they use to grasp bamboo.
This pseudo-thumb is actually a wrist bone, and its only function is to hold the bamboo while the panda is eating. The extra thumb only appears on the front paws.
4. Strong Jaw Muscles
The giant panda has strong muscles in its head and jaws, and it evolved this way not to tear flesh but to crunch bamboo. Bamboo is a hardy plant, and the panda needs strong jaw muscles to support its teeth.
The panda has enough jaw power to crush bamboo stalks. As such, a panda can inflict some serious damage on an animal or human being. A panda’s bite ranks close to the power of a lion, tiger, and brown bear.
5. Larger and Smoother Molars
Pandas have very sharp teeth. Their molars are specially developed to be smooth, so they can chew on bamboo with little effort.
Pandas have two sets of teeth—these are the baby teeth and the permanent set. They have a total of 42 teeth, and they have similar enamel to human beings. The difference is that pandas can regenerate their teeth enamel while human beings cannot.
6. Strong Legs
Pandas have strong legs that support their weight. Without these legs, they will be immobile. When pandas climb trees, they use their legs to balance—not like monkeys that mostly rely on their arms to move around trees.
Pandas move around a lot to forage, and this movement is the key to developing their leg power. So no, they do not skip leg day. Pandas’ legs do not have a heel pad. It is why they seem flat-footed if one sees them walk.
7. Short Tail for Balance
An adult panda has a short tail. The tail is so short that it is unnoticeable at times. The panda uses its tails to express emotions. Sometimes, it wags its tail to show excitement.
The tail also helps the panda keeps its balance while on a tree. More importantly, the tail plays a critical role in the mating process. In addition, pandas use their tails to mark territory or brush an area where they want to sit down.
8. Fur for Protection
The fur of a panda is similar to that of a bear. It is thick and wooly, and it keeps the panda warm when it is cold. Pandas are covered in fur, which has an oily quality.
The oil allows moisture to stay when it is hot. It is similar to wool, but its main function is keeping the panda warm because their natural habitat is in highly elevated mountains. The fur of the panda is one of the reasons people hunted them down.
9. Bigger Colon
What makes pandas a tad different from other bears is that they have bigger colons. A big colon allows the panda to eat a lot of leaves. In addition to this, the intestine of a panda is shorter than other bears. The giant panda drinks only once a day, and therefore does not produce much waste.
Cows have a long colon that allows them to leech nutrients from grass. The short but big colon of a panda is what makes it eat all day. Pandas eat about 14 hours a day and can eat up to 13 kilograms of bamboo leaves and shoots.
10. Color Adaptation
Finally, the panda has a cute color combination of black and white, which allows it to camouflage itself. The white makes the panda nearly invisible in snow, and the black fur allows them to absorb heat in the winter.
The color combination also makes it difficult for predators to see a panda. Studies indicate that pandas are hard to see, especially from distances 60 meters away. The black patches allow the panda to blend in with its environment.
Pandas have several predators on top of humans. For example, snow leopards hunt pandas. There are also feral dogs that can hunt them, along with the Asian black bear. Giant pandas typically avoid confrontation but will attack if needed.
Pandas are endangered animals that need human protection. While conservation efforts are happening, more needs to be done. Pandas are one of the best examples of how evolution works. Many bears are omnivores, and yet the panda lives on bamboo only—a truly amazing feat of evolution and natural selection.
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