Red Panda

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 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.

The head and body length of red pandas averages 56 to 63 cm (22 to 25 in), and their tails about 37 to 47 cm (15 to 19 in).

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).

redpanda-sleepingCrepuscular, 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 eat mainly bamboo leaves (up to 20,000 a day!), grass and fruit. Occasionally they will eat 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.

What About Their Feet? 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. *Photo from Shepreth Wildlife Park.

Rockstar Mom 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.

Huff-Quack Red pandas often communicate using body language (such as head bobbing and tail arching) and a variety of noises including the “huff-quack” and a warning whistle.
*Photo from Cincinnati Zoo.

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