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Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding


Bamboo specialists

  • More than 99% of diet is bamboo
    • Consume 12-15 kg/day of bamboo roots, shoots, and leaves (26-33lbs)
      • Favor shoots (highly nutritious, low fiber, available during the spring), then young leaves (less fiver than otder leaves) (Swaisgood et al. 2016)
    • Capable of eating up to 38kg (84 lbs) of "new" bamboo shoots
    • Abundance and access to quality bamboo, especially during the late winter and early spring, may be one limiting factor on populations in the wild (Li et al. 2017)
      • Much greater foraging effort required November-February; more time searcher for younger, more nutritious leaves
  • Consume 25 species of bamboo
    • Only a few bamboo species are widespread at the high altitudes pandas now inhabit
      • Bashania fangiana in Wolong (sub alpine conifer forest)
      • Fargesia spathacea, F. robusta, Sinarundinaria chungii, S. nitida, and S. fangiana in lower altitudes
    • Pandas require at least 2 species of bamboo to avoid starvation
      • All plants of single bamboo species flower, die, and regenerate at the same time
  • Protein in leaves, branches, and stems
    • Leaves contain the highest levels of protein
  • Pandas change their foraging behavior to take advantage of key nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, and nitrogen (Wei et al. 2015)

Dietary comparision with other bears

  • Most bears consume high amounts of plant matter
    • Many rely on plants for at least 75% of their diet (except for carnivorous polar bears)

Other food items

  • Account for c. 1% of diet
    • Occasionally eat eggs, small or infant animals, carrion – all opportunistically
    • Forage in farmlands for pumpkin, kidney beans, wheat, domestic pig food (Hu & Wei 2004)
    • Occasionally eat other plant species
    • Consumption of soil observed, but rarely (perhaps for absorbing plant toxins)

Diet varies with 3 ecological seasons:

  • April - June
    • Mainly bamboo stems
  • July - October
    • Mainly leaves
  • November-March
    • Old shoots, stems, leaves

Feeding & Drinking


  • Feed for 14 hrs/day
  • Body posture while feeding
    • Take up a sitting position is usually assumed with forelegs free
    • An accessory lobe "thumb" on the pad of each forepaw can be flexed and controls the position of the bamboo stalk
    • Stalk is grasped with teeth
    • Tough outer layer is stripped off before it is eaten
  • Feeding efficiency compensates for their low quality diet
    • Eat only the most nutritious parts of bamboo
    • Eat rapidly
    • Pass food quickly through digestive system


  • Typically drink at least once/day
    • Take water from standing pools
  • Throughout the year pandas have a water imbalance
    • More water eliminated in feces than is ingested from food
    • Water offset in part by eating wet bamboo in rainy season

Bamboo for Dinner

Giant Panda eating bamboo

Nearly 99% of the giant panda diet is bamboo.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Hu & Wei (2004)
Pan & Lü (1993)
Schaller et al. (1985)
Li et al. (2017)

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