Adult giant pandas are largely solitary and have well-defined home ranges, rarely meeting except in the mating season, which runs from March to May (1) (2) (3) (5). During this time, the giant panda signals its presence by marking trees and banks with scent secreted from glands located beneath its tail (3) (6). It will also claw bark (3) (6) and males occasionally ‘dust bathe’, the dust particles becoming covered with the giant panda’s scent and wafting into the air (6).
Male giant pandas often vocalise during the mating season, producing calls that can be heard echoing through the mountains (7). Female giant pandas also use vocalisations such as bleats, moans and barks to advertise their readiness to mate (3).
The female giant panda usually give birth to a single cub between July and September (1) (3). The gestation period is highly variable, ranging from around 95 to 181 days (2) (3), but this is due to a variable delay between fertilisation and implantation, and the true gestation length is closer to about 50 days (3) (8). Although twins are sometimes born, the female rarely raises more than one of the cubs (1) (3). The young giant panda is born at an extremely immature stage of development, weighing only a tiny fraction of the female’s weight (3) (5).
The giant panda cub is helpless after birth, and for the first few weeks of its life the female cares for it in a den located in the base of a hollow tree or in a cave (2) (3) (8). After four to seven weeks, the young panda starts to travel with the female, but must be carried and can only move about independently at five to six months old (3). The young giant panda remains dependent on the female until it is at least 18 months old (2) (3).
Female giant pandas usually give birth only once every two years (2) (3). The giant panda reaches sexual maturity at around 5.5 to 6.5 years old (2) and may live for around 14 to 30 years in the wild (2) (3). This species has often wrongly been thought to be a poor breeder due to its low breeding success in captivity. However, in the wild it has been found to have a breeding rate comparable to other bear species (1) (2).
The giant panda is unusual in the extreme specialisation of its diet, which consists almost entirely of bamboo. As a member of the bear family, the giant panda has the digestive system of a carnivore and so is only able to digest a small proportion of its bamboo food (2) (3). An adult giant panda therefore needs to spend most of its waking hours feeding and must consume between 10 and 18 kilograms of food daily in order to meet its energy requirements (3) (8). It alternates periods of feeding and resting throughout the day and night (3) (7).
Although 99 percent of the giant panda’s diet consists of bamboo (1) (3), it also occasionally eats other plant material and will even sometimes eat meat (2) (7). The giant panda typically sits down to feed, freeing its forelimbs to manipulate food (3).