The giant panda's teeth

Site: Discovery and Learning
Course: Beyond the Panda
Book: The giant panda's teeth
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Monday, 10 August 2020, 5:13 PM

1. How do giant pandas eat bamboo?

Incisors are front teeth and usually used for biting. Canines are pointed teeth, usually used for killing and defending. Pre-molars are smaller back teeth which lie in between the front and back teeth. Molars are back teeth. 

The molars (back teeth) are very different in a giant panda compared to the other bears. 

Look at photo A which shows three different views of a skull. 

Now look at photo B, which shows three different views of another skull. 

Look closely at the size and shape of the molars and the shape of the skulls. 

One skull is a giant panda and one is a black bear. Which shows the giant panda? 

2. A closer look at the skulls

Now look at the diagrams of the skulls.  You can download a pdf file of these skull diagrams if you want to print and cut them out: China Mobile Library section, P4-P7 panda pack: skull activity

Have you worked out which skull is the giant panda? Think of which type of back teeth a giant panda would need to eat the bamboo. 

3. Mandarin names for animal teeth

Let's try to say the names of the animal teeth in Mandarin. 

It is also interesting to look at the literal meaning (the exact words used in the translations). 


门齿        ménchǐ         doorway (opening) tooth           


犬齿        quǎnchǐ        dog tooth                                


臼齿        jiùchǐ            mortar tooth                          

chewing molars 

咀嚼齿    jǔjuéchǐ        to chew tooth                         

slicing molars

裂齿        lièchǐ            to split (break open) tooth     

Please note that there are different names used in Chinese for human teeth. The names above are for describing animal teeth. In chapter 6, there are the names usually used for human teeth.

4. The giant panda skull

Skull B is the giant panda. 

The giant panda has larger flatter molars (back teeth) to chew the bamboo. The shape of the skull is also rounder than the black bear. 

The black bear has smaller sharper slicing molars to eat meat. 

All bears are omnivores, which means they eat meat and plants but the giant panda's diet is mainly bamboo. 

5. The teeth of the giant panda

The giant panda has incisors, canines and molars. 

Let's try to say this in Mandarin. 

The sentence will literally read as:

Big bear cat has incisor tooth, canine tooth and molar tooth.

Mandarin Learning Points:

  • In Mandarin, there is no difference between singular and plural words. The meaning will be understood from the sentence. This is different to English. For example, in English we say 'one tooth' but when talking about more than one, the word tooth changes to teeth. 


Dàxióngmāo yǒu ménchǐ, quǎnchǐ hé jiùchǐ. 

6. Mandarin names for human teeth

If you want to describe human teeth in Mandarin, there are different words for incisors, canines and molars. 


切牙        qiēyá        to cut tooth           


尖牙        jiānyá       sharp tooth                                


磨牙        móyá         to grind tooth                          

Both 牙 yá and 齿 chǐ mean tooth. 

The word for human tooth is:

牙齿        yáchǐ         tooth                 

7. What happens next?

We have now learnt how the giant panda grips the bamboo and how the giant panda eats the bamboo. 

Giant pandas have to eat a lot of bamboo each day. The amount varies but on average it is about 17kg per day. 

This also means that pandas poo lots in one day! One giant panda can poo up to 50 times per day! 

Faeces (poo) is very important for scientists to study. Giant panda faeces is collected at Edinburgh Zoo to find out about the health of the giant pandas. Giant panda faeces in the wild is collected to find out exactly what giant pandas eat. Although we know they mainly eat bamboo, they can eat over 60 different kinds of bamboo, as well as other plants and some animals. With more understanding of what the panda eats, it helps with the work to restore the bamboo forests. 

8. And...

Urine (piddle) is also very important for scientists to study. The urine of TianTian, the female panda at Edinburgh Zoo, is collected to help find out about the different stages of having a baby. 

I am sure you want to learn how to say poo and piddle in Mandarin! 

大便    dà biàn     (big urinating or defecating)       poo

小便    xiǎo biàn  (small urinating or defecating)    piddle

Urinating comes from the word urine and 'to urinate' means to piddle; 'to defecate' is to poo. The Chinese use the same word for both but describe the poo as big and the piddle as small. 

The next book will explain a bit more about the plant bamboo.