Encyclopedia Entry #4 – Giant Panda

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), or simply the panda, is a bear from China that has a special place in both Chinese culture and the world’s imagination.  They’re a unique animal with a lot of misconceptions.  They’re extremely popular in zoos, as they’re not in a lot of zoos.  Why are they so interesting?

This panda was busy snacking at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, Japan. I took this photo myself a couple weeks ago.

5 Interesting Facts

1. The panda’s classification has been a subject of debate for quite some time.  It was unknown whether they were true bears, more closely related to raccoons, or somewhere in between.  Molecular analysis showed that the panda is indeed a true bear.  Its closest extant relative is the spectacled bear. Read about it here.

2. Despite the panda having a diet of 99% bamboo, it is technically a carnivore.  But they are known to eat meat when it’s available.  So, like other bears, they have an omnivorous diet.  Unlike other bears, they eat mostly bamboo.

3. All pandas are owned by the Chinese government, including those born in zoos in other countries.  Pandas are loaned out to zoos around the world for 10 year periods for up to US$1,000,000.

4. An endangered species, the panda lives only in China, but used to have a much broader range that included southern and eastern China, as well as northern Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma).  There are an estimated 3,000 pandas in the wild.

5. The panda has five fingers and a thumb.  The thumb actually isn’t a real thumb, but a sesamoid bone (see here).  It’s very useful for the panda, as it helps it hold bamboo.

Dino 101 Completed

I’ve finished my second Coursera course!  Dino 101 was offered by the University of Alberta, which I attended for my first year of university.  Dr. Philip Currie is one of the instructors, and he is one of the top dinosaur palaeontologists in the world.

This course doesn’t actually end for another two weeks, but I completed it ahead of time, as we’re allowed to go at our own pace.  I found this course quite informative, even though it was an introductory course to palaeontology.  I knew a lot of what was taught, but I did find out plenty of new things, too.

I sometimes wonder what it would’ve been like to study palaeontology at university instead of physics and astronomy.  I nearly did.  I found my geology courses at the U of A fascinating.  Makes me miss university.

Anyway, I have another course starting in a couple days on Future Learn, and that’s called Moons.  I’m looking forward to it.