Pandas survive almost exclusively on bamboo because of their extremely slow metabolisms, scientists find

The creatures have special wrists adapted to eat bamboo

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The Independent Online

Pandas are able to survive on their meagre diet of bamboo because they burn energy exceptionally slowly, according to a new study.

A 90 kilo (14 stone) panda burns less than half the energy of a human with the same weight, scientists have found.

However, pandas must consume a lot of the stuff to survive – with one needing up to 23kg (50lbs) a day. They achieve this feat by using their enlarged wrist bones that function as opposable thumbs.

On top of this, their low metabolic rate makes it is difficult for the bears to stay warm.

Experts writing in the journal 'Science' said that while pandas have thick fur to trap their body heat, their surface temperature is much lower than that of other black and white animals such as zebras and Dalmatian dogs.


Professor John Speakman, from the University of Aberdeen and Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: "Pandas save a lot of energy by being frugal with the energy they spend on physical activity.

"Using GPS loggers attached to pandas we discovered that they rest for more than half of the day and on average, only travelled at 20 metres an hour.

"However, it is not only their low activity that contributes to their low metabolism; the metabolic rate of an active panda is still lower than a completely stationary human.

He added: "We found that their low metabolism is correlated with very low levels of their thyroid hormones, which was linked to a genetic mutation in the thyroid hormone synthesis pathway that is unique to the panda."

Pandas are the rarest members of the bear family, and are classed as an endangered species. 

A separate study recently found that the creatures are more sociable that previously thought. Researchers from Michigan State University who attached GPS collars to the bears found that bears would gather together for significant periods of time.

Additional reporting by PA