As per new research led by physicist Andrew Schulz from the Georgia Tech in Atlanta, pandas use their heads to climb – pressing it against the tree trunk shortly – as a kind of an additional paw.
This extra contact helps the animal hold on as it releases and raises one of its paws. Similar behavior has been observed in newborn kangaroos, which use their head to haul themselves to their mother’s pouch.
According to Schulz, head moves are logical for panda sizes, as they have the shortest leg-to-body ration amidst the globe’s eight living bear specimens. Researchers have analyzed such small animals pretty often, but pandas and other bug mammals have not been considered for observations as much.
China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding researcher James Ayala first came with the idea for the study, suggesting that such data could help experts see if young pandas are prepared for life in the wild, as some animals placed with the Chengdu facility are eventually released into the wild.
Using Their Head Makes the Climbing Easier
For the research, the Chengdu staff designed a panda climbing gym with four bark-stripped tree trunks, each of them having a different diameter, holding a high platform. Scientists captured on video eight young pandas that have grown further than the tottering fluffball stage.
Some of the young bears did not get it, as Schulz said of one of the youngsters: “No controlled ascent or descent. It was kind of madness every single time.”
The overall result states that the head press enhances the panda grip while they climb, and it also keeps the animal’s weight safely balanced and close to the trunk.
Nicole MacCorkle, a panda keeper at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the research, said that the zoo pandas are also using their heads this way while climbing trees. For cubs, the head use is sometimes the easy part of the climb, she explained.
“They’ll climb up fairly quickly into a tree,” MacCorkle says. “It seems like they can’t quite figure out how to get back down.” However, “typically, they work it out for themselves.”