Why pandas are black and white and 24 other things you might not know about these animals.
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Disneynature's Born In China

Is there anything cuter than a panda bear?

GIF via Toronto Zoo/YouTube.

I mean, really ... just look at that face.


Image via iStock.

It’s no accident that these adorable creatures have come to symbolize vulnerable species worldwide — they are simply irresistible. Scientists even have a name for species like pandas — "charismatic megafauna" — because these animals have such widespread popular appeal that they can help mobilize people into getting involved in conservation efforts all around the world.

In China, pandas — or Xiongmao as they are called there — have become a national treasure. People come from all over the world just for the chance to see one of these beloved black-and-white cutie pies.

But how much do you really know about this bear? Here are 25 things that you should know about the un-bear-ably cute panda.

Image via iStock.

1. For years, scientists weren’t sure if pandas were a type of bear, raccoon, or something else entirely. (Goofy fluff monster perhaps?) But recent genetic studies have shown that they are, in fact, bears.

They can be pretty goofy though, especially as cubs. Image via iStock.

2. Their fur might look silky and soft, but it's actually thick and coarse to keep them clean and warm.

3. The giant panda's range once included central, southern, and eastern China, as well as neighboring Myanmar and northern Vietnam.

But today, their habitat has been reduced to just 20 isolated patches of misty bamboo forests in western China.

4. The forests that pandas call home are located high in the mountains — at least 4,000 feet above sea level. And in the summer, pandas can climb as high as 13,000 feet in search of food.

The Sichuan province in China — one of the regions home to giant pandas. Image via iStock.

5. Pandas play a crucial role in keeping their habitat healthy because when they roam, they spread seeds, helping vegetation grow.

A panda at the Shaanxi Panda Sanctuary in China. Image via iStock.

6. Scientists didn’t know why pandas were so distinctly black and white until recently. Turns out, it helps them camouflage and communicate.

According to a March 2017 study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, their colors help them blend into their snowy and shady environments, while their black ears signal aggression to predators. In addition, their black eye patches help them recognize other pandas.

Image via iStock.

7. They are known as “giant” pandas because as adults, they can weigh as much as 330 pounds.

But when they are born, they are anything but giant: They weigh only 3.5 ounces, roughly the same weight as your cellphone.

Image via iStock.

8. Pandas actually have the digestive system of a carnivore but have adapted to a vegetarian diet.

They don’t have the extra stomachs that some herbivores, such as cows, have to help digest plants and grasses. This means they only digest about a fifth of what they eat.  

9. In order to survive, they must spend about 12 hours eating and chow down on 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo every single day.

Image via iStock.

10. While bamboo makes up 99% of their diet, they sometimes also eat flowers, roots, honey (just like Winnie the Pooh!), fish, birds, and even the occasional rodent.

11. Pandas have an elongated wrist bone that functions like a thumb and helps them grab onto bamboo stalks while they are eating.

Image via iStock.

They also have very broad and flat molars to help them crush bamboo shoots, leaves, and stems as they chomp away.

12. Unlike most bears, pandas don’t hibernate. This is because their diet of bamboo — which is low in nutrients — doesn’t allow them to store enough fat for hibernation.

So during the winter, the bears survive by simply heading down the mountains to warmer parts of the forest.

13. But because of their unique diet of bamboo, their poop could be used as biofuel.

Pandas have a short intestinal tract, with some pretty strong microbes living in there to help them digest all that tough bamboo quickly. These microbes are so potent that they could be useful to scientists looking for a new fuel source.

14. Pandas spend up to 12 hours sleeping every day.

Image via iStock.

This allows them expend fewer calories in a day, saving energy. (And sometimes they sleep on their backs — which is adorable!)

15. They can climb trees and swim.

Image via iStock.

16. Pandas don't really play well with others.

Except when it’s time to mate (or when a mother is rearing her cubs), pandas go to great lengths to avoid each other and remain solitary. If two pandas run into each other, they’ll growl, swat, lunge, and even bite each other.

17. You won't see a panda roar, but they are very vocal.

Giant pandas make a number of different sounds, including honks, huffs, barks, howls, and bleats, which sounds just like a lamb or goat.  Young cubs also croak and squeal.

18. Smell is important to pandas because it helps them communicate with each other.

Image via iStock.

Pandas have scent glands under their tail and secrete a substance that they use to mark trees, rocks, bamboo, and bushes — and the smell is so strong, even humans can smell it.

19. The scent marks they leave are like individual ID cards — they tell other pandas smelling them a whole lot about themselves.

Each scent mark tells pandas the age, sex, reproductive condition, and social status of the bear that left it — as well as how long the scent has been there. Each one is believed to be unique.

20. Male pandas like to leave their scent high up on a tree, so they’ll perform “handstands” to get it up there.

21. Pandas are commonly believed to be poor breeders, but this isn’t actually true.

A newborn cub and her mother at a panda research center in China. Image via BBC Earth/YouTube.

They only breed once every two to three years though, and it is very difficult to get them to mate in captivity, which is why so many people have the wrong impression about their fertility. But, according to the World Wildlife Fund, their reproductive rates are actually comparable to those of the thriving American black bear.

22. In the wild, a typical female panda will give birth to about five litters in her lifetime.

A female panda and her cub. Image via iStock.

23. A panda litter is usually one or two cubs, which are born blind and don’t open their eyes for 45 days.

Cubs are completely dependent on their mothers for the first 14 months of their lives, and they don’t usually leave her until they are 18-24 months old.

Image via iStock.

24. Today, pandas have fewer predators than they did historically.

Tigers once lived in their range, but they no longer do, and leopards that are found in the region are reduced in numbers. However, golden cats, yellow-throated marten, dhole, and weasels live in the same habitats and are known to prey on cubs.

25. But now pandas have a new threat: humans.

Large areas of bamboo forests have been cleared for agriculture, timber, and fuelwood, which has reduced their habitat and made it harder for them to find bamboo. Not only that, but roads and railroads have fragmented forests, isolating panda populations from each other and preventing them from being able to mate and reproduce.

Poaching is still a problem too. Stricter laws and greater public awareness have helped rein in the problem, but pandas are still sometimes killed by poachers, or they are harmed accidentally by traps and snares set for other animals.

But there is some good news. The number of wild pandas is actually growing, thanks to conservation efforts over the past decade.

A panda climbing a tree in the Chengdu region of China. Image via iStock.

In fact, the number of wild giant pandas has increased from 1,596 in 2003 to 1,864 in 2015  — nearly 17%. In September 2016, their conservation status was updated from “endangered” to “vulnerable.”

Of course, pandas still need our help because they are not out of danger just yet. They still need our support so their populations can keep growing. And that way, maybe one day soon, we can have a thriving population of pandas in China once again.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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