Did you know giant pandas eat 25 to 90 pounds (12-38 kg) of bamboo every day? Bamboo is pretty much all pandas eat—bamboo leaves, shoots, and stems. Fourteen hours per day eating bamboo.
The question is, why do they eat so much of the stuff? Recent research has provided some answers. It turns out that pandas have microbes in their gut that are more similar to the microbes of carnivores and omnivores than to those of herbivores. Actually, they don't have any of the microbes needed to digest cellulose, which is the stuff in plant cell walls that make plants hard for humans to digest. So, pandas have to eat a lot of bamboo because they can only digest about 17% of the bamboo they eat.
Pandas evolved from omnivore ancestors, not from herbivores, and they began specializing in eating bamboo about seven million years ago. During those seven million years, they never developed a highly efficient way to break down cellulose. They simply do not have the genes necessary to produce plant-digesting enzymes.
For this reason, many scientists believe pandas are at an evolutionary dead end, and this may have increased their risk of extinction. Fortunately, conservation efforts are helping to preserve at least some of the panda's native bamboo forests.
- Panda eating bamboo - DepositPhotos
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