Giant pandas live in the slow lane

Bears’ energy use is small fraction of other mammals’


SLOW BURN  Munching on bamboo all day doesn’t fuel a lot of activity. One way giant pandas conserve energy is by moving in slo-mo. 

George Lu/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Like LED lightbulbs, giant pandas are energy-saving superstars.

The bamboo-loving bears use only about 38 percent as much energy as other land mammals of similar size, researchers report in the July 10 Science. The researchers calculated daily energy use by analyzing the blood, poop and urine of five captive pandas and three wild ones. The giant bears are more like giant reptiles, the study found.

Giant pandas cut back on energy consumption by acting like couch potatoes. They move less than other bears, and when they do move, they go in slo-mo. What’s more, energy-draining organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys are relatively smaller in pandas than in other placental mammals.

The findings help explain how giant pandas can survive on a low-cal, nutrient-poor diet of hard-to-digest bamboo.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on August 13, 2015, to clarify that panda blood and feces were sampled as well as urine.


Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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