Giant Panda Adaptations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Giant pandas have many adaptations that let them live in a habitat where they mostly eat bamboo. This lesson will teach you about these adaptations and why they are important for the panda's survival.

Favorite Food: Bamboo

You are walking around the zoo with your family looking at all the animals, but there is one exhibit you can't wait to see. When you get there, you have to wait in line because everyone else wants to see these animals, too. You finally get in and see the huge, black and white giant pandas munching on green bamboo stalks while enjoying a cool, sunny afternoon outside.

In the wild, giant pandas live in forests with thick bamboo growth in China. They are related to bears and will eat a rodent or baby deer from time to time. But when you think of giant pandas you probably think of them chowing down on that thick, tough bamboo, which is what they eat 99 percent of the time. They can survive by eating this chewy, hard plant because of special adaptations, which are features they have developed to live in their habitat.

Six Fingers are Helpful

If you've ever tried to catch a ball but missed it because it slipped through your fingers, you might have wished for an extra finger or thumb to help you out. Luckily for giant pandas, they don't have just five fingers on their front paws the way you have five fingers on your hands. They also have an extra finger that works like a thumb and is part of their wrist bone. This gives them a total of six fingers on each front foot.

Giant panda using six fingers
Giant panda using six toes

Just like an extra thumb would make it easier to catch balls, the giant panda's extra thumb makes it much easier to grab its favorite bamboo snack and pull off the leaves.

Why Such a Big Head?

If someone says you have a big head, they usually mean you think too much of yourself and are being snooty. But giant pandas really do have big heads compared to other kinds of bears and for a good reason.

Giant panda eating tough bamboo
Giant panda eating tough bamboo

Your favorite foods like spaghetti and hamburgers aren't too hard to chew up, but bamboo is a really tough plant. If you tried to eat tough stuff like bamboo, your jaw would tire out long before you were full. In order to chew the hard stalks and get enough to eat, giant pandas need large, powerful jaws. Their head has to be big to hold all that munching muscle power!

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