Male vs Female Giant Pandas: 5 Key Differences

Written by Deniz Martinez
Published: October 25, 2023
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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

two giant pandas eating bamboo

Male and female giant pandas look identical, except males are a bit chunkier as adults.

©lotushkco/ via Getty Images

While male and female giant pandas have identical body shapes and fur color, there is a notable size difference in adults. Males can grow to 85 – 125 kg (187 – 276 lbs.), while females only grow to 70 – 100 kg (154 -220 lbs.). Of course, this difference may only be noticeable when you have a male and female right next to each other!

2. Home Range Sizes

Animals with Opposable Thumbs-giant panda

Both male and female giant pandas agree that the best home has lots of bamboo to eat!

©Bryan Faust/Shutterstock.com

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; see #4 below). 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

Giant Panda (female adult and young bear of 10 months) at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna

Females in the wild have different habitat needs than males due to needing to birth and raise cubs.

©Manfred Werner / Tsui, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

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 has the babies (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

Giant Panda Bei Bei in a tree

Trees are commonly used for scent marking.

©iStock.com/saqib memon

While it may be difficult for us to tell who the males and female giant pandas 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 their courtship.

Males and females may also reach sexual maturity at different ages. Some sources state that both males and females reach breeding age 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

Giant panda bear cub and Mother Breastfeeding Chengdu, China

Giant panda cubs are raised solely by their mothers.

©dangdumrong/Shutterstock.com

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 of life.

Conclusion

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!

Summary of Male vs Female Giant Pandas: 5 Key Differences

TraitDifference
sizeadult males heavier; males 85 – 125 kg (187 – 276 lbs.) vs. females 70 – 100 kg (154 – 220 lbs.)
home rangemales have larger, looser home ranges that overlap with both multiple females & each other; females have smaller core ranges & avoid overlapping with each other
habitat usefemales have more specific habitat needs for birthing & raising cubs (e.g., den sites, denser cover)
communication & courtshipdifferences in scent marking, vocalizations & visual displays; possible differences in ages of sexual maturity
parental careonly females birth & raise cubs

The photo featured at the top of this post is © V-yan/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Deniz Martinez is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on biogeography, ornithology, and mammalogy. Deniz has been researching, teaching, and writing about animals for over 10 years and holds both an MS degree from American Public University earned in 2016 and an MA degree from Lindenwood University earned in 2022. A resident of Pennsylvania, Deniz also runs Art History Animalia, a website and associated social media dedicated to investigating intersections of natural history with art & visual culture history via exploring animal iconography.

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