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Giant Pandas and Their Bamboo Story, Updated

Jul 11, 2015 05:06 PM EDT
Giant Panda Eating
Giant pandas have very low body heat for a variety of reasons. Because of their very low metabolism rates, they're able to digest a large vegetable diet, despite having stomachs designed to digest meat, researchers say.
(Photo : Wikipedia Commons)

When people tell us to take it easy or keep calm and carry on, they're essentially saying, "Be a panda."

That is, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing Zoo and the University of Aberdeen have recently shown in the journal Science that giant pandas have very low body heat and are thus cool customers. This is the answer to the long-asked question of why pandas can digest a vegetable diet, when their stomachs are designed for eating meat. Also, pandas are friends with California surfers, we are pretty sure. That last bit might not be true, though.

Pandas eat up to 50 pounds of bamboo to survive, because, as we mentioned, their guts remain designed for digesting meat. Scientists have often wondered how they can survive on such a diet.

In answer to that question, the researchers' study shows that pandas have very low metabolism: a 198-pound panda expends less than half the energy of a 198-pound human, for instance. When the scientists used GPS loggers attached to pandas, they learned that pandas rested for more than half of the day and traveled at about 65 feet an hour. as a release noted. Yes, feet.

Pandas also have very low levels of thyroid hormones, which has to do with a genetic mutation in the thyroid hormone synthesis pathway unique to the panda, the release said.

While pandas have very thick fur to keep warm, with such a low metabolic rate, they still have a much lower surface temperature than--wait for it--other black and white animals, such as zebras and Dalmatian dogs, say the researchers in a release.

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