Tag Archives: scientists

The Giant Panda: China’s Endangered and Solitary Creatures

The Giant Panda

The Giant Panda

Fun Facts About the Giant Panda

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus and species: Ailuropoda melanoleuca

Geographic distribution

Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China, in Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing, and other development now restrict giant pandas to the mountains.

Habitat

Giant pandas live in broadleaf and coniferous forests with a dense understory of bamboo, at elevations between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. Torrential rains or dense mist throughout the year characterizes these forests, often shrouded in heavy clouds.

Physical description

The giant panda, a black-and-white bear, has a body typical of bears. It has black fur on ears, eye patches, muzzle, legs, and shoulders. The rest of the animal’s coat is white. Although scientists do not know why these unusual bears are black and white, some speculate that the bold coloring provides effective camouflage into their shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings. The panda’s thick, wooly coat keeps it warm in the cool forests of its habitat. Giant pandas have large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles for crushing tough bamboo. Many people find these chunky, lumbering animals to be cute, but giant pandas can be as dangerous as any other bear.

Size

About the size of an American black bear, giant pandas stand between two and three feet tall at the shoulder (on all four legs), and reach four to six feet long. Males are larger than females, weighing up to 250 pounds in the wild. Females rarely reach 220 pounds.

Status

The giant panda is listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN’s) Red List of Threatened Animals. There are about 1,600 left in the wild. Nearly 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, mostly in China.

Life span

Scientists aren’t sure how long giant pandas live in the wild, but they are sure it’s shorter than lifespans in zoos. Chinese scientists have reported zoo pandas as old as 35. The National Zoo’s Hsing-Hsing died at age 28 in 1999.

Diet

A wild giant panda’s diet is almost exclusively (99 percent) bamboo. The balance consists of other grasses and occasional small rodents or musk deer fawns. In zoos, giant pandas eat bamboo, sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes.

Social structure

Adult giant pandas are generally solitary, but they do communicate periodically through scent marks, calls, and occasional meetings. Offspring stay with their mothers from one and a half to three years.

The giant panda has lived in bamboo forests for several million years. It is a highly specialized animal, with unique adaptations.

Feeding adaptations

Millions of Zoo visitors enjoy watching giant pandas eat. A panda usually eats while sitting upright, in a pose that resembles how humans sit on the floor. This posture leaves the front paws free to grasp bamboo stems with the help of a “pseudo thumb,” formed by an elongated and enlarged wrist bone covered with a fleshy pad of skin. The panda also uses its powerful jaws and strong teeth to crush the tough, fibrous bamboo into bits.

A giant panda’s digestive system is more similar to that of a carnivore than an herbivore, and so much of what is eaten is passed as waste. To make up for the inefficient digestion, a panda needs to consume a comparatively large amount of food—from 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo

each day—to get all its nutrients. To obtain this much food means that a panda must spend 10 to 16 hours a day foraging and eating. The rest of its time is spent mostly sleeping and resting.

Water

Wild giant pandas get much of the water they need from bamboo, a grass whose contents are about half water. (New bamboo shoots are about 90 percent water.) But giant pandas need more water than what bamboo alone can provide. So almost every day wild pandas also drink fresh water from rivers and streams that are fed by melting snowfall in high mountain peaks. The temperate forests of central China where giant pandas live receive about 30 to 40 inches of rain and snow a year. Charleston, West Virginia—a city with a similar temperate climate—receives about the same amount of rain and snow: an average of 42.5 inches a year.

Reproduction

Giant pandas reach breeding maturity between four and eight years of age. They may be reproductive until about age 20. Female pandas ovulate only once a year, in the spring. A short period of two to three days around ovulation is the only time she is able to conceive. Calls and scents draw males and females to each other.

Female giant pandas give birth between 95 and 160 days after mating. Although females may give birth to two young, usually only one survives. Giant panda cubs may stay with their mothers for up to three years before striking out on their own. This means a wild female, at best, can produce young only every other year; in her lifetime, she may successfully raise only five to eight cubs. The giant pandas’ naturally slow breeding rate prevents a population from recovering quickly from illegal hunting, habitat loss, and other human-related causes of mortality.

Development

At birth, the cub is helpless, and it takes considerable effort on the mother’s part to raise it. A newborn cub weighs three to five ounces and is about the size of a stick of butter. Pink, hairless, and blind, the cub is 1/900th the size of its mother. Except for a marsupial (such as the kangaroo or opossum), a giant panda baby is the smallest mammal newborn relative to its mother’s size.

Cubs do not open their eyes until they are six to eight weeks of age and are not mobile until three months. A cub may nurse for eight to nine months. A cub is nutritionally weaned at one year, but not socially weaned for up to two years.

Lifestyle

A wild panda spends much of its day resting, feeding, and seeking food. Unlike other bears from temperate climates, giant pandas do not hibernate. Until recently, scientists thought giant pandas spent most of their lives alone, with males and females meeting only during the breeding season. Recent studies paint a different picture, in which small groups of pandas share a large territory and sometimes meet outside the breeding season. Much remains to be learned about the secret lives of these elusive animals, and every new discovery helps scientists in their battle to save this species.

 

Special thanks to nationalzoo.si.edu

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature, Science, Travel

Lightning: Mother Nature’s Light Show

Lightning

Lightning

Fun Facts About Lightning

  • Lightning is a form of electrical discharge between clouds or between a cloud and the ground.

    Ball lightning

    Ball lightning

  • The discharge may take place between two parts of the same cloud, between two clouds, or between a cloud and the ground.
  • Lightning may appear as a jagged streak, a flash in the sky, or in the rarer form of a brilliant ball.
  • Thunder is the sound waves produced by the explosive heating of the air in the lightning channel during the return.
  • Most lightning strikes occur either at the beginning or end of a storm.
  • The average lightning strike is six miles long.Lightning is not confined to thunderstorms. It’s been seen in volcanic eruptionsextremely intense forest fires, surface nuclear detonations, heavy snowstorms, and in large hurricanes.

    Volcanic lightning

    Volcanic lightning

  • Lightning reaches 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, fours times as hot as the sun’s surface.
  • A cloud-to-ground lightning channel can be 2 to 10 miles long.
  • Voltage in a cloud-to-ground strike is 100 million to 1 billion volts.
  • Lightning is underrated as a risk because it usually claims only one or two victims at a time and does not cause mass destruction of property.
  • Lightning affects all regions. Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Colorado have the most lightning deaths and injuries.
  • Lightning kills more people on an annual basis than tornadoes, hurricanes or winter storms. It is second only to flash floods in the annual number of deaths caused by storm-related hazards.
  • Damage costs from lightning are estimated at $4-5 billion each year in the U.S.
  • Around the earth there are 100 lightning strikes per second, or 8,640,00 times a day.
  • What is commonly referred to as heat lightning, is actually lightning too far away to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction.
  • There are approximately 100,000 thunderstorms in the U.S. each year.
  • Rubber shoes do nothing to protect you from lightning.Americans are twice as likely to die from lightning than from a hurricane, tornado or flood.
  • Talking on the telephone is the leading cause of lightning injuries inside the home.
  • Standing under a tall tree is one of the most dangerous places to take shelter.
  • If your hair stands up in a storm, it could be a bad sign that positive charges are rising through you, reaching toward the negatively charged part of the storm. That’s not a good sign! Your best bet is to get yourself immediately indoors.

    Blue lightning

    Blue lightning

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates there are 200 deaths and 750 severe injuries from lightning each year in the U.S.
  • The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.The odds of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000.
  • 20% of all lightning victims die from the strike.
  • 70% of survivors will suffer serious long-term effects.
  • Annually, there are more than 10,000 forest fires caused by lightning.
  • 85% of lightning victims are children and young men aged 10-35 engaged in outdoor recreation and work activities outside.
  • 70% of all lightning injuries and fatalities occur in the afternoon.
  • Most lightning deaths involve people working outdoors and outdoor recreationists.
  • Lightning in remote terrain creates dangerous conditions. Hikers, campers, backpackers, skiers, fishermen, and hunters are especially vulnerable when they’re participating in these activities.
  • Many survivors of lightning strikes report that immediately before being struck their hair was standing on end and they had a metallic taste in their mouth.
  • If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of a storm—and can be struck by lightning. Seek shelter and avoid situations in which you may be vulnerable.
  • Use the 30-30 rule, when visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within six miles (ten kilometers) of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.
  • The Fourth of July is historically one of the most deadly times of the year for lightning in the U.S.. In summer, especially on a holiday, more people are outside, on the beach, golf course, mountains, or ball fields. Outdoor jobs such as construction and agriculture, and outdoor chores such as lawn mowing or house painting are at their peak, putting people involved in danger.
  • Long-term injuries from a lightning strike can include memory & attention loss, chronic numbness, muscle spasms & stiffness, depression, hearing loss, and sleep disturbance.
  • Some scientists think that lightning may have played a part in the evolution of living organisms. The immense heat and other energy given off during a stroke has been found to convert elements into compounds that are found in organisms.

Special thanks to  www.strikealert.com and www.nationalgeographic.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Science