New research suggests that unlike other mammals who are typically active either during the day, night or during twilight - at dawn and dusk - pandas may have a unique activity pattern. They are most active in the morning, afternoon and midnight.
The researchers think that the pandas' unusual diet may account for what apparently is an extra burst of activity.
Most mammals fall into three categories of movement: Nocturnal animals are only active at night. Diurnal animals are active during the day. Pandas were thought to fall into the third category: crepuscular, those who are active twice a day, at dawn and dusk. But the new study suggest that pandas may belong to a category of their own.
"We cannot simply say the panda is a crepuscular creature. Giant pandas show complex activity patterns that are closely related to food quality and water availability," said lead researcher Jindong Zhang from Michigan State University in the US.
"They need to eat food more frequently, such as at midnight, since the nutrition quality of bamboo is low. The study of the activity patterns of pandas opens a door to discovering the unique adaptations of pandas to their environment," Zhang noted.
The researchers studied data that has poured in from GPS collars on five pandas in the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwestern China. The five pandas were captured, collared and tracked from 2010 to 2012.
Zhang mapped how active the pandas were across 24-hour periods and across seasons. He found that there were three activity "peaks" throughout the day - in the morning, afternoon and midnight.
Studying activity patterns reveals more than just knowing when an animal sleeps or eats. It also reveals insights into behavioral theory and about how animals respond to their own unique ways of getting the resources they need. The results appeared in the Journal of Mammalogy