Researchers Figure Out Why Pandas Like Horse Manure

Compounds in dung seem to keep them warm in chilly weather, study suggests
By Josh Gardner,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2020 2:17 PM CST
Chilly Pandas Turn to Steaming Piles for Warmth
Giant pandas are attracted to horse manure, possibly to fend off cold temperatures.   ((Photo by Pascale Gueret/iStock/Getty Plus))

It isn't an Earth-shattering revelation, but a Chinese study has uncovered what could be chilling news for some: pandas appear to smear themselves with feces to stay warm. According to the Guardian, scientists who were curious about a behavior seen in some giant pandas set up cameras in 2016 and 2017 to view a subspecies in China’s Qinling Mountains at night. They found that the animals tended to seek out horse manure, sniff it, then completely cover their fur in the dung, per the New York Times. What's more, they appeared to only be attracted to fresh manure, and only when temperatures dipped below 59F, per the study out of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

So what exactly drives these adorable creatures toward this gross behavior? Researchers believe there's more to the behavior than meets the eye (or nose). They tested samples of fresh horse manure, which they found to be rich in the chemicals beta-caryophyllene and caryophyllene oxide. When they applied these compounds to lab mice, the scientists found those mice fared better in cold conditions. In a paper published Dec. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers postulate that the chemicals work at a molecular level to inhibit the sensation of cold in the pandas. Scientists are now forced to wonder if the behavior, believed to be mercifully rare in mammals, is more widespread than previously thought. (Read more giant pandas stories.)

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