Giant pandas get plenty of greens thanks to their bamboo diet but scientists have discovered they like dessert too.
Scientists studying the endangered black-and-white bears said that while pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo, which contains only tiny amounts of sugars, they showed a strong preference for natural sweeteners in an experiment.
The researchers also examined panda DNA and found a match to the same “sweet receptor” gene that humans possess that underpins their ability to taste sugars.
Sweeter foods like fruit may have been part of the natural diet of pandas before human activities helped drive the animals into their current mountainous habitat where those foods are scarce, the researchers said.
“Giant pandas love sweets,” said behavioural geneticist author Danielle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia, who led the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“We are a bit surprised. However, given the anecdotal evidence that they like apple, sweet potato and so on in captivity, we are not completely surprised,” added Monell molecular biologist Peihua Jiang, another of the researchers.