The tireless work of animal behaviorologists is finally coming to glorious fruition. In an article from Nature today, the magazine finally puts to rest one of mankind's oldest questions: Why do Pandas like "rolling around in their own poo?"
Droppings are almost like an animal ID card. Creatures can smell feces to collect hints of sex and matching and the scat of other animals will warn them whether a predator is in the vicinity. But none of these clarified why horses were drawn to the wild pandas at the reserve. Though horses often go through the reserve and travel supplies for local farmers, solitary pandas in the wild do not interact.
Researchers studied 38 instances of the behaviour in giant pandas in the Qinling Mountains.
The bears were less than 10 days old and appeared to roll in horse feces. These feces contain natural compounds called beta-caryophyllene (BCP) and beta-caryophyllene oxide (BCPO), which according to scientists led by researchers at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are scarce in older dung.
The pandas usually chose manure less than ten days old. Researchers conclude that pandas use chemicals in horse dung to block cold receptors in their skin. This makes them feel more comfortable, even if they look less tidy.
The same thermo-regulating receptors are present in many animals, including elephants, penguins, and humans. Pandas may have used horse poop to stay warm for thousands of years. Staying warm in the winter can be challenging for pandas, as they don't hibernate and have a low-calorie diet of bamboo.