Hearing the sound of the giant and red pandas chomping down on these tasty treats is music to the keepers’ ears! As our animal care team members Nicole MacCorkle and Mariel Lally noted in the last update, both species have a pseudo thumb— an elongated and enlarged wrist bone covered with a fleshy pad of skin—which enables them to easily grasp bamboo. Giant pandas have large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo, while red pandas shear selected leaves off with their mouths.
Mei Xiang takes a bite of bamboo at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat.
Our colleagues in the Department of Nutrition Sciences cut bamboo for the pandas at more than 20 stands across the region—including one at our very own Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.
One might not think pandas have picky palates when it comes to bamboo, but during winter and spring Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are partial to a species called yellow groove bamboo. It gets its name from the yellow indentation that runs down the hard stalk (a.k.a. the culm.)