10 Fascinating Facts About Red Pandas

As a highly specialized species, the red panda has many unique characteristics that set it apart, but which are also very important for global biodiversity. Identified as a keystone species and indicator of environmental health for the Eastern Himalayan broadleaf region – one of our planet’s biodiversity hotspots – which supports over 500 million people! Their conservation has landscape-level effects, and like the canopy, the entire ecoregion (its forests and wildlife) is protected when a red panda is conserved. Here are fifteen of our favorite red panda facts!

1. The red panda is the first panda

In 1825, nearly 50 years before the discovery of the giant panda, Frédéric Cuvier described the red panda for the first time as the most beautiful animal he had ever seen. Georges-Frédéric Cuvier was a French zoologist and paleontologist who was chief curator of the menagerie of the Paris Museum of Natural History from 1804 to 1838 (the year of his death). He was the younger brother of Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, known as the founding father of paleontology. George Frederick’s work was also widely known and is mentioned in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick! The western red panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) was first described by Georges Frederick. In 1897, F.W. Styan added another red panda subspecies and named it the Ailurus fulgens strain, which is now refulgent. Now you can see why the red panda was the first panda – the original panda.

2. It’s not related to the giant panda

The name of the red panda might suggest that its closest relative is the giant panda, but studies show that it is closer to raccoons! Recent genetic research also links them to the family Mustelidae, which includes weasels, otters, and wolverines.

3. A red panda’s diet is 98% bamboo

Red pandas should eat 20-30% of their body weight in bamboo – they can eat up to 20,000 leaves! – every day. Bamboo does not offer many nutrients and can only digest about 24%. So why does the red panda eat it? Well, bamboo can grow quickly and abundantly in the cloud forests where the red panda lives. And because it’s a low-calorie option, there isn’t much competition for bamboo among local wildlife, so it can be an abundant food source! Although bamboo forms the bulk of the red panda’s diet, it occasionally eats eggs, insects, flowers, birds, and small mammals when available.


Besides the first panda and the original panda, the red panda is known by many names, including Firefox, Red Bear-cat, Red cat-bear, and the lesser panda.

5. Red pandas are kind of like cats “and bears”

One of their nicknames is “Red Cat” although many similarities relate to the mom-panda-baby-panda relationship. Their babies are called cubs (eg bears) which are usually born from June to September in the wild and mostly stay in their dens for the first three months. Cubs use high-pitched whistles to get their mother’s attention when they are hungry. Red panda mothers will build a birthing den in a hollow tree or tree stump and line it with leaves, grass, moss, and tree branches for their young to nest in. Like a cat, red panda mothers use their tongues to keep their babies clean. , and to keep them safe, they will carry their young in their mouths and necks (again, like cats and other carnivores), while curling them up into a ball for easy transport.

6. They are carnivores

The red panda is classified as a carnivore because it descends from the same ancestors as other carnivores, but its diet consists mainly of bamboo. It evolved from Simocyon’s taller, or “short-snouted dog”! This arboreal carnivore was a close relative of the red panda, the size of a puma, and lived during the late Miocene and early Pliocene. Present in Europe, Asia, and North America.

7. The red panda has six fingers on its front paws

The red panda has a false thumb: an enlarged and modified wrist bone that it uses to climb trees and pull bamboo stalks and tree branches. Giant pandas also have fake thumbs, but for different reasons. This is an example of “convergent evolution” which occurs when two unrelated animals that encounter similar circumstances evolve to resemble each other. In this case, the fake thumb

8. They sleep for two-thirds of the day

Up to 17 hours a day are spent sleeping for red pandas! They are known to be nocturnal and crepuscular (active at dusk or dawn), and they like to take naps on tree branches or in tree hollows.

9. Red pandas sleep on their tails

Yes, it’s as cute as it sounds. A red panda’s tail can be anywhere from 12 to 20 inches long – that’s almost the length of its body – giving it supreme balance while navigating the treetops. They will also use these tails as wrap-around blankets in their cold mountain habitat.

10. Red pandas quack like a duck

Although they are generally calm creatures, red pandas make a variety of sounds including tweets, squeals, growls, hisses, and even a huff-quack.

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