Male vs Female Giant Pandas: 5 Key Differences
With their distinctive black and white patterned fur, giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are easy to tell apart from the world’s other seven species of bears. However, telling male and female giant pandas apart from each other is much harder! While they do have identical coats, there are five other key differences you can use to help figure out who is who. Read on to find out what they are!
1. Size Difference
While male and female giant pandas have identical body shapes and fur color, there is a size difference in adults. Males can grow to 85-125 kg (187-276 lb), while females only grow to 70-100 kg (154-220 lb). Of course, this difference may only be noticeable when you have a male and female right next to each other!
2. Home Range Sizes
In the wild, males have larger and looser home ranges that overlap both with multiple females and each other (although scent marking is used so that males can avoid each other). Females, on the other hand, tend to stay within a well-defined core range and avoid overlapping with other females.
3. Differences in Habitat Use
A 2011 study also found that wild male and female giant pandas have different habitat preferences within their Chinese mountain forest homes. Females are more selective overall, preferring higher altitude conifer forests, mixed forests, historically clear-felled forests, and forests with slopes between 10 and 20 degrees. Males, on the other hand, are less picky and utilize a broader range of habitat types. The study suggested that this difference is due to another major difference between males and females — namely, who cares for the young (see #5 below). Females need areas that include den sites for birthing and denser cover for concealing their cubs. Males, on the other hand, need to roam more widely to find prospective mates.
4. Communication and Courtship
While it may be difficult for us to tell who the males and females are, it is very important that they can tell each other apart, especially during their brief mating season! They do this mainly through olfactory communication — that is, scent marking. Male and female giant pandas have their own sex-specific chemical signals that they mark their respective ranges with, both as a way of keeping same-sex competitors out and luring potential mates in. Secondary to this, males and females also have different visual displays and vocalizations they make to each other during courtship.
Males and females may also reach sexual maturity at different ages. Some sources state that both males and females reach maturity around the same time, generally 5 to 6 years old. However, other sources report that females reach maturity a bit earlier than males, as soon as 4 to 5 years versus 6 to 7 years.
5. Mothers and Cubs
Obviously, female giant panadas are the ones who get pregnant and give birth to a cub. However, they are also the only parents who care for the cub after its birth. Giant panda cubs stay with their mother for the first 1.5 to 2 years.
Male and female giant pandas look identical, except for a size difference as adults. The best ways to tell them apart otherwise are by their home range size and habitat use; how they communicate with each other via scent, sound, and visual display and how they interact during mating season; and who ends up with a cub!