Hey Smithsonian - What are some of the zoo animals' favorite treats?

Trick or treat?! Halloween is here and it’s time to indulge. Over the years we have followed the amazing animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo. The animals’ regular diets are interesting and often impressive, but we’ve particularly loved watching as they are spoiled with “treats” on special occasions. This got us thinking, what would some of the animals’ favorite “treats” be on Halloween? (We will leave their “tricks” up to your imagination!)

  • Giant Panda –Millions of zoo visitors consider watching the pandas eat is a highlight of their time at the zoo. A giant panda typically eats 50 to 80 pounds of bamboo a day! This means a panda must spend 10 to 16 hours a day foraging and eating. Talk about working for your food! The pandas at the zoo are often treated to special “cakes” made out of a variety of ingredients like fruit, vegetables, sugar cane and honey. Check out our post about the recipe for a panda’s birthday cake to learn more. For a more seasonal treat, Bei Bei the panda at the National Zoo was recently given a log sprinkled with pumpkin spice to enjoy. Who knew Bei Bei was so basic? Do you think he likes pumpkin spice lattes too?
  • Red Panda – The red pandas also eat primarily bamboo, but focus on the leaf tips as they are the most nutritious part of the plant. They also forage for grasses, insects and grubs, and occasionally feed on birds and small mammals. As for treats, red pandas at the zoo enjoy grapes, chopped apples and bananas.
  • Orangutan – The primate keepers at the National Zoo encourage gorillas and orangutans to use their natural foraging skills by hiding spiralized carrots in hay. The orangutans recently celebrated the start of fall by feasting on toasted pumpkin seeds also served in hay to continue promoting foraging. The Zoo also gave the orangutans whole pumpkins.
    Orangutan enjoys a pumpkin (Source: Smithsonian National Zoo)
  • African Lion – The lions at the zoo eat ground beef that is specially produced to meet the nutritional needs of carnivores. Twice a week, they are given knucklebones or beef femurs, and their weekly treat is rabbits, which exercise the giant cats’ teeth and jaws. Recently, Luke the lion at the zoo turned 13 years old! To celebrate, he indulged in an ice cake. Want to see the lions enjoy their food and treats? Check out the live Lion Cam.
  • Ring-Tailed Lemur – These lemurs are one of the most vocal primates because of how many different vocalizations they make, and they love to snack the day away. Sound like anyone you know? Ring-tailed lemurs eat leaves, flowers, insects, fruit, herbs, and vegetables. The lucky lemurs at the National Zoo were recently given jack-o-lanterns to explore and munch on the hidden food inside in celebration of the season.
    Ring-tailed Lemur searches for food in a jack-o-lanturn (Source: Smithsonian National Zoo)


  • Naked Mole-Rat – These rodents typically burrow down to eat the underground parts of plants. Fun fact! Naked mole-rats do not drink water – they get all they need from food. At the zoo, they are fed apples, carrots, corn, green beans, kale and sweet potatoes. As for treats, they often receive nutritionally complete primate biscuits. Want to see how these creatures live and eat? Tune in to the live Naked Mole-Rat Cam.

The Smithsonian National Zoo is just one of the sites students can experience while on a WorldStrides Washington, D.C. program.

In 2018, WorldStrides became the approved domestic educational travel provider of the Smithsonian. This blog is part of a series, “Hey Smithsonian!” where we ask our friends at the venerable institution questions that dig deeper into this special place and all it has to offer!