Red Panda Facts
The Red Panda, or "firefox," is often referred to as the "lesser panda" in deference to the better-known giant panda. Others prefer "first panda" as western scientists described it 50 years earlier, and gave pandas their name.
The two sub-species — or possibly, two species — of the red panda
The red panda has been previously classified in the families Procyonidae (raccoons) and Ursidae (bears), but recent research has placed it in its own family Ailuridae, in superfamily Musteloidea along with Mustelidae and Procyonidae.
Two subspecies are recognized:
Ailurus fulgens fulgens
found in Nepal, northeastern India (West Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), Bhutan, and part of China.
Ailurus fulgens styani
(also known as a. f. refulgens): Only found in China (in the Hengduan Mountains in Sichuan and the East Nujiang River of Yunnan Province) and northern Myanmar.
Mysterious Mammal of the Himalayas
Red pandas are elusive and rarely-seen mammals found in the mountain forests of Nepal, India, Bhutan, China and Myanmar (Burma).
Crepuscular, Arboreal and Solitary
Red pandas are most active in the early morning and late afternoon (crepuscular) spending most of the day resting in trees (arboreal) conserving their energy. Red pandas are normally solitary creatures but come together in pairs in the breeding season.
A Mostly-Vegetarian Carnivore
Although classified as a carnivore, red pandas mainly eat bamboo leaves, and they eat a lot of it! This is because red pandas can digest only about 24 percent of the bamboo they eat. They also eat grass and fruit and occasionally an egg, insect or small animal.
*Photo by Mathias Appel.
Where Did the Panda Go?
Red Pandas red and black color camouflages them from their predators. The red on their backs is exactly the same color as moss found on the trees where they live. The black on their stomach makes it difficult to see them from below.
Like giant pandas, red pandas have an extra “thumb,” which is an enlarged bone for grabbing bamboo stems and tree branches. Red pandas claws are sharp and can be pulled back like a cat. They also do not have paw pads like many mammals. Red pandas have fur covering the soles of their feet, which is believed to add extra insulation from the cold and help grip onto slippery, mossy branches.
They also have scent glands on the soles of their feet, to mark their territory.*Photo from Shepreth Wildlife Park.
It’s Not Just a Cute Face
The markings on a red panda's face help them survive! The reddish 'tear tracks' extending from their eyes to the corner of their mouth may help keep the sun out of their eyes. The white on their face is "almost luminescent" and can guide a mother's lost cubs in the darkness!
*Photo by Mathias Appel
After three months growing in their mother, cubs are born into a nest made of twigs and grass. Newborn cubs are covered in thick gray fur and their eyes and ears are closed. The cubs will emerge from the nest at about three months of age but stay with their mother until the next breeding season starts.
Red pandas often communicate when they feel provoked or threatened. They use body language — such as head bobbing, tail arching and standing on their hind legs — and a variety of loud noises including the “huff-quack” and a warning whistle.
So if you ever see a standing panda you may want to keep your distance. The animal is likely feeling stressed and may resort to using their sharp claws or releasing a foul smell from their scent glands on the intruder.
The tail is also a blanket! And a pillow!
When it gets really cold red pandas go into what is called “torpor.” They wrap their tail around themselves and go into a deep sleep, reducing their metabolic demands and lowering both their core temperature and respiration rate
Red pandas are known to use communal latrine sites to stake out territory and share information with others. This photo is from one of our camera traps and shows a wild red panda at a latrine site.
They can do that!?
Red pandas are one of the few animals on the planet that can climb straight down a tree, head-first.
*Photo from Hugo Havard during 2018 ecotrip in Eastern Nepal.
Need more facts?
RPN's red panda infosheet will get you started on becoming a red panda expert. Download the print version, or the full infosheet (best for browsers) so you can be more informed and help to raise red panda awareness.
Have more questions?
Email our volunteer science team — made up of very knowledgeable zookeepers — your red panda related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.