Dec 16, 2018 | Updated: 09:51 PM EST

The Charming Tale of Giant Pandas—Why These Wall Flowers are the Life of the Party

Mar 29, 2015 02:35 PM EDT

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When they're chomping down on bamboo shoots they may not seem like the lives of the party, but in a new study published this week in the Journal of Mammalogy researchers with Michigan State University provided the first in-depth look into the lives of Giant Pandas and revealed that there may be more than meets the eye with this not so colorful bunch. Though the endangered species has been the face of many international campaigns, little is truly known about the species and their behavior in the wild. So to find out the truth, researchers electronically tracked five wild pandas for more than 2 years, while they explored the bamboo forests of southwestern China and revealed that though they seem like solitary creatures it appears that panda bears can party with the best of them.

With strict laws governing who and what research is conducted on the endangered species, biologists have had little to no luck in finding out exactly what happens behind the bamboo curtains of the pandas' homes. But in the new study researchers with Michigan State University were able to discover a lot about their behavior thanks to a group of five very important pandas. The troupe of pandas included three adult females (named Mei Mei, Pan Pan and Zhong Zhong), young female (Long Long) and an adult male (named Chuan Chuan). 

"Pandas are such an elusive species and it's very hard to observe them in wild, so we haven't had a good picture of where they are from one day to the next," coauthors of the study, Vanessa Hull and Jindong Zhang said. "This was a great opportunity to get a peek into the pandas' secretive society that has been closed off to us in the past."

Pan Pan, Mei Mei, Zhong Zhon, Long Long and Chuan Chuan were all captured, collared and tracked from 2010 to 2012 as they wandered throughout the Wolong Nature Reserve in southwest China. And though the giant pandas are often thought of as the loners of the bamboo forest, spending most of their time foraging for just the right type of bamboo, the study revealed a shockingly social truth. It turns out that while the giant pandas may appear to be of the asocial variety, behind closed doors they happen to hang out with one another, or at least in the same regions of forest for weeks on end.

The most shocking news of all came when researchers discovered that the frisky male Chuan Chuan tended to commingle with his female compatriots, even outside of the typical mating season. While the researchers were not able to peer into what happened when the pandas held their secret meetings in the bamboo forests, they can infer that the five pandas were pretty cordial with one another considering their movements overlapped significantly enough for them to be considered friends. 

In fact, over the course of two years, these five friends changed what we know about pandas forever and suggested that perfects not everything is as it seems when it comes to the docile bamboo-lovers.

"We can see it clearly wasn't just a fluke, we could see they were in the same locations, which we never would have expected for that length of time and at that time of year" Hull says.

Zhang added, "This might be evidence that pandas are not as solitary as once widely believed."

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