Red Panda Facts

A red panda. Image credit: Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock
A red panda. Image credit: Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock
  • Red pandas are mammals that belong to the order Carnivora. They are the only living species in the family Ailuridae.
  • They are illegally hunted for their fur and are vulnerable to the illegal pet trade.
  • Red pandas are endangered. There are less than 10,000 red pandas in the world today.

These adorable animals, with their rusty red fur, round face, and pointy ears, look like a cross between a fox and a puppy—but they are neither. They are also not closely related to the iconic giant panda despite the similar name.

Something they have in common with giant pandas is their primary food source. You guessed it: bamboo! Here are other interesting facts you might want to know about these elusive animals.

Scientific Name

There are two different subpecies of red panda (Ailurus fulgens): the Himalayan red panda (A. f. fulgens) and the Chinese red panda (A. f. styani ). They are found in different regions and possess slightly different physical features.

Taxonomic Position

  • Phylum: Chordata
  •    Class: Mammalia
  •       Order: Carnivora
  •           Family: Ailuridae
  •              Genus: Ailurus
  •                   Species: fulgens
  •                      Binomial Name: Ailurus fulgens

What Is A Red Panda?

Alone in their family, the red panda species is unlike any other. Image credit: Sands0013/Shutterstock

Red pandas are mammals that belong to the order Carnivora. At first, red pandas were classified under the family Procyonidae along with raccoons because of their similar-shaped head and ringed tail. However, further research found that their DNA is similar to bears, so they were then classified under the Ursidae family. Now, the most recent genetic studies have found that they have no living relative and are thus placed in their own family called Ailuridae.

The order Carnivora, which the red panda belongs to, includes 12 families and more than 270 species. Most of them are carnivores but the order also includes several omnivores like some species of bears.  

The order includes dogs, cats, raccoons, weasels, badgers, otters, skunks, civets, seals, and walruses, among many others. Since they have no living relatives and are alone in their family, their closest relatives and nearest ancestors lived 3 to 4 million years ago.

Are Red Pandas Related To Raccoons?

Although they are both mammals and both belong under the order Carnivora, they belong to different families. They are therefore not directly related. Some scientists consider them like distant cousins.

Are Red Pandas Marsupials?

Red pandas are not marsupials since they are placental mammals. Marsupials are animals that give birth to extremely under-developed young which then crawl to the mother’s pouch where they will fully develop. Placental mammals are born fully developed. A baby red panda is born completely covered in fur.

Where Do Red Pandas Live?

Red pandas spend most of their lives up in trees. Image credit: MyImages - Micha/Shutterstock

Red pandas are arboreal. They spend around 90% of their time in trees. They aren’t built for movement on the ground but have various adaptations for life up in trees. They have extremely flexible ankles and the fibula and tibia are attached in such a way that they can rotate about their axis so they can climb down trees headfirst with ease. Red pandas also have pseudo-thumbs just like the giant panda and modified wrist bones. These adaptations allow them to climb up and live on trees throughout the day with remarkable agility.  

They live in the mountains of Central China, Northern Myanmar, and Nepal in high-altitude temperate forests. Some are also found in Parts of India, Bhutan, and Tibet.

What Do Red Pandas Look Like?

Close-up of a Himalayan red panda. Image credit: Mr.Adilok Utama/Shutterstock

The red panda is known for its rusty red fur that serves as camouflage against the canopy of fir trees that are covered with reddish-brown moss and white lichen. They have large round heads, short snouts, and perky, pointed ears. They have distinct “tear” marks on their face that run from the eyes to the corner of the mouth. They are also known for their thick and bushy ringed tail which they use to maintain their balance and keep their body warm.

The Chinese red panda's fur is redder than the Himalayan red panda, whose face is usually paler. The ringed tail is also more prominent on the Chinese species.

Red pandas are dwarfed by giant pandas in terms of size. They can weigh only anywhere between 12 to 20 lbs (5.4 to 9 kg). They are about the size of a common house cat. The head and body can grow up to 50 to 65 cm (20-26 inches) long. The tail can be anywhere between 25 to 50 cm (12-20 inches).

Red Panda Diet

A red panda eating bamboo. Image credit: Tallllly/Shutterstock

About 85-95% of a red panda’s diet consists of bamboo. Their name comes from the Nepalese word Ponya which roughly translates "bamboo eater." They chomp on bamboo shoots and bamboo leaf tips, but you may also find them foraging for roots or fallen fruits. The rest of their diet consists of insects, birds, eggs, and other small mammals.

Are Red Pandas Nocturnal?

Red pandas are crepuscular, so they are most active at dusk and dawn. They spend almost half of the day sleeping and tend to be more active in cooler weather.

Red Panda Life Cycle

A mother red panda with her cub. Image credit: esdeem/Shutterstock

Red pandas give birth to fully developed young called cubs. They create birthing dens in stumps, hollow trees, tree roots, or even in crevices between rocks. They line their nests with moss, leaves, grass, and soft branches. They can give birth to up to four cubs but more often give birth to twins. Young are born in the spring and summer after a gestation period of 114 to 145 days.

Red panda cubs nurse until they are around 22 weeks old. They stay with their mothers for around one year.

The lifespan for these animals is 8 to 10 years in the wild and up to 15 years in shelters or zoos.

How Many Red Pandas Are Left In The World?

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of them left in the wild and their populations are fast dwindling in numbers. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are currently less than 10,000 individual pandas left in the world.

Threats To Red Pandas

Humans are responsible for the principal threats to red pandas, such as habitat loss due to deforestation. Image credit: Jure1/Shutterstock

Though they are located in regions inhabited by predators, red pandas spend most of their time on trees in order to escape predators like snow leopards, cloudy leopards, martens, and jackals.

These animals are endangered and are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species. Among the chief causes of their decline are human-caused environmental degradation, habitat loss and human behavior. The latter includes poaching and trafficking. This animal’s beautiful fur is illegally trafficked and used to produce hats and clothes. They are also targets for the illegal pet trade.

Humans also contribute to the threats affecting red pandas through deforestation causing habitat loss. Climate change, caused by human activity, has also been shrinking their habitable range.

Why Are Red Pandas Important?

As the only surviving animal under the Ailuridae family, it is important to keep their species alive to preserve the planet’s animal diversity. Extensive efforts like raising awareness are now underway to try to preserve their habitat and stop the illegal trade of their fur.

Red Panda Facts

1Scientific NameAilurus fulgens
3Weight12-20 lbs (5.4-9 kg)
4Body Length50-65 cm; tail length 25-50 cm
5Speed38 km/hour (short distances)
6DietBamboo, insects, birds, eggs, small mammals
7Lifespan8-10 years; 15 years in captivity
8Gestation 114-145 days
10Conservation StatusEndangered

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