No, they do not hibernate for the winter. They move to lower elevations with warmer temperatures. The Giant Pandas don’t hibernate because bamboo is available all year long in their habitat, and they must eat all the time.
During the winter in their native China, pandas move from the top of their mountain habitat to the bottom in search of food. They descend about 5,000 feet to eat things such as bamboo stalks. Because they have food available all year long, pandas do not need to hibernate.
Pandas are interesting creatures. Giant pandas eat about 40 pounds of food for around 12 hours each day. They use their paws for eating and even have opposable thumbs. The giant panda is an endangered creature, and each bear prefers to live alone.
On the coldest days, visitors to the National Zoo might see giant pandas at their liveliest. “They love the snow,” says Don Moore, associate director of animal care sciences, who knows how to tell when the bears are happy: “when you see them romping and playing.”
Unlike most other temperate-climate bears, pandas don’t hibernate in the winter. In China, they eke out an existence in the mountains, descending to an elevation of about 5,000 feet in the winter to eat mostly bamboo stalks, avoiding the leaves, which contain diminished protein in the cold months.
What Do Pandas Do In the Winter?
Giant Pandas have evolved to be able to eat food native to their habitat year-round, so they do not need to hibernate. In the wild, they will forage through snowfall, eating small animals and bamboo. And their thick fur keeps them warm through the winter, which also means they prefer cooler climates in the summertime.
Why don’t pandas hibernate?
Bears are notorious for their hibernation habits. As most of us learned early in school, bears, as well as several other animal species, undergo this long-term, sleep-like phase to escape from the bitter cold during winter months. And can we blame them? After all, winter can’t be fun when there’s little food and bitterly uncomfortable temperatures. Many sun-loving humans would much rather sleep through the icy, snow-shoveling season and wake to a warm spring. Would you be surprised to learn that, curiously, the giant panda, also called the “panda bear,” abstains from this ancient, protective ritual?
If you’ve read How Hibernation Works, you know that the process can take on a variety of forms. But pandas don’t take part in any kind of hibernation, even under the loosest definitions of the term. It’s not that they don’t like sleep — far from it. Giant pandas sleep for about eight to 12 hours a day. And it’s not that their bodies can take the cold — they actually have relatively little body fat with which to insulate themselves from low temperatures [source: Stone]. But, rather, when the weather gets tough, the pandas get going. Instead of burrowing away at the first sign of uncomfortable temperatures, like many bears do, giant pandas simply find a more comfortable place to relax and eat bamboo.
Living near mountains conveniently allows giant pandas to find refuge in more comfortable temperatures. In the summer, giant pandas like to seek out cooler temperatures at high elevations. Though typically they live at around 9,000 feet (2,743.2 m) above sea level, during a hot summer they will typically climb up as high as bamboo still grows — to elevations of 11,500 feet (3,505 m) [source: Stone]. And, when cold seasons ensue, they’ll head back down to warmer elevations, sometimes about 4,000 feet (1,219 m), if necessary.
Bear or not, there’s more at work behind a giant panda’s preference to migrate rather than snooze away the winter. It turns out that the giant panda’s peculiar diet excludes the possibility of hibernation. Read on to find out why.
Pandas in Winter
The temperature is still low when spring begins and people are still wearing heavy clothes and sitting in rooms that are heated. What about our adorable pandas? How are they spending the cold winter? As you might have guessed, they are animals that dislike hot weather, and love cold weather. You don’t have to worry that they are having a winter sleep and that you won’t be able to see them in action. They will welcome you in high spirits, sometimes climbing tree limbs, or enjoying the warm winter sun on lawns or playing with companions. They are active and adorable.