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Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens & A. styani) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)


  • The Red panda is a carnivore that has adapted to a highly specialized bamboo diet
    • Bamboo leaves and shoots comprise 95% of diet
    • Unlike the typical carnivore diet, bamboo is low in protein and fat, but high in fiber
    • Other species adapted to a bamboo diet include Giant panda, Bamboo lemurs (3 species), Bamboo rats (3 species)
  • Habitat may include up to 40 species of bamboo, but only 1 or 2 species are eaten (Wei & Zhang 2011)
    • 90% of diet is leaves of Bashania faberi in Qionglai Mountains and Wolong
    • Primary diet is leaves of Qiongzhuea in Liangshan Mountains
    • Bamboo is only food in winter months (December - April)
  • Seasonal supplements to bamboo
    • Spring: new bamboo shoots
    • Fall: fruit, roots, grasses, acorns, lichens, bird eggs, insects, and grubs (Choudhury 2001)
    • Pregnant females: occasionally birds, rodents, lizards
  • Proximity to water is essential
    • More water eliminated in the feces than food brings in
    • Usually drink at least once a day


  • Adaptations for eating bamboo
    • Relatively large skulls and molars allow efficient chewing
    • Bites leaves off individually
    • Feed on most nutritious species of bamboo available (the one with the highest protein and fiber)
    • "Thumb" or elongated radial sesamoid bone used to manipulate bamboo
    • Able to reduce metabolic rate without decreasing core body temperature, saving energy
    • Spends 10 - 12 hours/day "grazing"
  • No gastrointestinal modifications to herbivorous diet
    • Most herbivores have a long gut that retains food and employs microbes to help digest nutrient-poor plant material
    • Red panda's pass food through the gut very rapidly (2 - 4 hours) (Wei & Zhang 2011)
    • Short carnivore gut lacks microbes that facilitate digestion
    • Must eat large quantities (1.5 kg of fresh leaves or 4 kg of fresh shoots daily) (Wei et al. 1999)
    • Able to digest about 25% of leaves and 45% of shoots ingested (Warnell 1989, as cited by Wei et al. 1999; Wei et al. 1999)
    • Red panda must consume up to 30% of its body weight (in leaves) each day (Wei et al. 2000)
      • Eat more, if female and lactating
    • Female red pandas can eat approximately 20,000 bamboo leaves in one day; c. 560 g of leaves (Reid et al. 1991)
  • Eating style differs from Giant panda
    • Giant panda bites off mouthfuls of leaves, shoots, branches and culms
    • Red panda eats at lower leaves, nipping off one at a time from branches; also eat young shoots
    • Walk on fallen logs and shrubs (rhododendrons) to reach higher bamboo leaves
  • In managed care
    • Food is grasped with a single forepaw and brought to the mouth while sitting, standing or occasionally lying on back

Diet of Bamboo

Red Panda eating bamboo leaves

Red pandas are technically carnivores, but they've adapted to feed almost exclusively on bamboo.

They also occasionally seek out sources of protein, such as insects and bird eggs.

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

Page Citations

Choudhury (2001)
Reid, Jinchu & Yan (1991)
Roberts & Gittleman (1984)
Wei & Zhang (2011)

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