The giant panda is an animal that lives up to its name -- these beasts are big, strong, lumbering creatures. Despite their intimidating size as adults, though, giant pandas come from humble beginnings, as they are tiny at birth. While they are strong, powerful animals, they also are an endangered species. Despite their small numbers, though, the panda bear is a widely recognizable animal all over the world.
Height and Weight
Giant pandas are, indeed, relatively large animals. When a panda bear is on all fours, his back is about 3-4 feet off the ground. While that may not sound too intimidating, these bears can grow to be 6 feet long and up to 300 lbs., making them about as big as an American black bear. Their distinctive black and white coats are not as soft and cuddly as they look -- their fur is thick and coarse as wool, insulating the animal so that it can live in relatively cool climates.
The giant panda isn't always so giant. In fact, a cub is considerably smaller than most human newborns. Born naked, blind and only 6 inches long or so, a panda cub is helpless for a relatively long time. For example, a giant panda cub is completely blind for as long as 5 weeks, and doesn't start crawling until it's about 10 weeks old. Cubs are dependent on their mothers for food for as long as nine months, and won't stop nursing until they are a year and a half old. Because the babies are so dependent for so long, many don't survive to adulthood.
Big and Strong
Giant pandas aren't just big -- they're strong, too. These muscular bears have powerful jaws and strong teeth that crunch through 28 lbs. of bamboo a day, as well as the occasional small animal. Despite their 300 lb. frames, they are strong enough to climb trees and they have enough stamina to be powerful swimmers. Despite their famously relaxed posture when sitting and munching on bamboo, these massive beasts are not to be underestimated.
An Endangered Species
Despite their impressive size and strength, giant pandas are an endangered species, at risk for extinction. There are fewer than 2,000 pandas left on Earth, making their future uncertain. This is due in part to their solitary nature and low rate of reproduction -- pandas don't mate often, and even when they do, the cubs often don't survive. Other reasons for their diminished population include hunting and deforestation of their natural habitat.
giant panda image by Elly from Fotolia.com
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.