If you already watched the movie “Turning Red”, you must have been fascinated by the cuteness of a red panda which has become the inspiration for the movie. However, red panda’s actual behavior is different from the one portrayed in the movie. They don’t interact with people that much and certainly are not huggable.
If this information got you thinking, you might want to know other fun facts about red pandas. So without further ado, below is a list of fun facts about red pandas that will make you love them even more.
1. Red Pandas aren’t Pandas
You might find this confusing due to their names, but red pandas are not related to giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). Instead, they are closer related to the Arctoidea group which places them among bears, pinnipeds, raccoons, and mustelids.
However, they are also not closely related to bears and raccoons as the previous research suggested. They belong to their own phylogenetic family, Ailurus fulgens. Genetically, they are closer to skunks and raccoons than giant pandas with whom they share the same name. It is clear that red pandas are unique even from their genetics.
2. The First Panda
Even though when you first heard of the word panda the first imagery that comes into your mind is probably the black and white bear, red panda actually got the name first. Unlike common misunderstandings, red pandas are not named based on the giant pandas. They even got the name panda first in 1821, which was around 50 years before giant pandas.
The giant pandas then get the same name due to the same characteristic. Both species are known as bamboo munching natives and that’s how they get the name Panda which is believed to be derived from the Nepalese words “nigalya ponya” which translates to “bamboo eater.”
3. A Vegetarian Carnivore
Okay, it’s getting even more confusing now but the term ‘carnivore’ here doesn’t necessarily mean meat eater. Red pandas are classified as carnivores because they’re descended from the same ancestors as other carnivores such as bears, dogs, and cats.
Their physical attributes are actually more suitable for them to be carnivores but they cannot digest cellulose. With that condition, red pandas opt for plant-based meals such as bamboo, leaves, grass, root, and occasionally eggs and insects. So this is how they are classified as vegetarian carnivores because they belong to the meat eater group but they don’t eat meat.
4. Forest Acrobats
While giant pandas spend most of their time around the ground looking for food, red pandas spend about 90 percent of their time in the trees in the forest. They spend most of their time in trees to avoid predators such as leopards. The color of their fur helps them to camouflage perfectly among trees. In fact, red pandas are famous for their incredible acrobatic skills. They can rotate their ankles, spread their arms, and use their tails to keep their balance like a pro acrobat.
5. The Extra Thumb
Just like giant pandas, red pandas have protruding wrist bones that act like an extra thumb. This false thumb’s main function is to help them have a better grip on the bamboo when they eat. It helps them to hold the rounded bamboo easier and not slip away from their paws. The extra thumb also helps them to have better grip when they climb since they spend most of their time in trees. However, this special feature is actually just a bone and not an actual thumb.
6. Solitary Creatures
Red pandas are solitary creatures who love to live on their own and hang out with themselves. The only time they encounter each other is during mating season when you can see them mostly in pairs. When a red panda cub is born, they will stay with their mother for about a year. After that, they will be considered mature and go out to live by themselves. The males usually care about the mating time since female red pandas are only fertile for a short period of time. The males then just mind their own business and not contribute to the cubs growth.
7. The Red List of Threatened Species
You might already know that red pandas are now endangered. They even make it to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Over the past 18 years, the red panda population has decreased by 50 percent. And it is projected to continue or even get worse for the next three generations.
The population decline is mainly due to deforestation. Red pandas need a huge amount if fresh bamboo daily and deforestation causes a lack of bamboo for them. It is also believed that hunting also plays a part in the population decline, thanks to ‘cute’ pictures on the internet.
8. More than Just Cute
When you see red pandas, you may admire their cute faces. But actually, their facial markings are more than just to make them look cute. It has a more important purpose which is to help them to survive. The red ‘tear track’ extending from their eyes to the corner of their mouth can help keep the sun out of their eyes. While the white on their face is almost luminescent and can guide a lost cub to find their way to their mom in the darkness. Such a convenient feature to have.
9. Adaptation Difficulties
Another reason for the red panda’s population decline is their inability to adapt with the new environment. Unlike raccoons who can manage the big city lifestyle and eat food discarded by people, red pandas cannot just leave the forest and start a glamor city life. Their digestive system cannot properly digest anything else other than the bamboo shoots and leaves. This means that they can only live in their habitat where there is enough food for them.
10. The Only Member of The Ailuridae Family
Unlike any other species who are grouped into families, red pandas are the only survivor in their family, Ailuridae. It is a family of mammals that consist of the red panda as the sole living representative with their extinct relatives. A new research recently suggested that the two subspecies of red pandas are actually two different species. One is found in China while the other is in Himalaya. It is also known that red pandas have such a huge diversity even among the same species.
11. Mark That Territory
Red pandas mark their territories using anal glands, urine, and scented glands located between their foorpad. The scent glands located on their paws produce transparent liquid that is odorless to humans but has a distinctive odor to red pandas. Their anal scents, however still produce an odor that we can smell. Unlike most animals that test scents using noses, red pandas test scents using the underside of their tongue. It is known that red pandas are the only creature who has this unique behavior.
12. You Don’t Want to Keep Them as Pets
Eventhough red pandas are cute looking and their size is perfect for cuddles, they are not the right animals to keep as pets. And you are not supposed to keep wild animals like red panda as a pet since they are now endangered. Keeping them as pets is, in fact, illegal. Another reason you don’t want a red panda pet is because of how often they release stinky scents. They might stain your belongings from their scent-marking.
13. Convenient Tail Blanket
Red pandas are known for their bushy, fluffy long tails. Not only do the tails have such a distinct form and pattern, they can also be almost as long as their body. For instance, adult red pandas can grow up to 60 centimeters in length, and their tails can grow up to 47 centimeters long. This tail size works to help them balance their body. The long and fuzzy tail also works as a blanket they use to put in front of their eyes to protect them from cold. Very convenient for colder weather.
14. Olfactory Senses as a Way to Communicate
One of the most unique traits of red pandas is their way to communicate. Red pandas communicate through sounds, body language, and olfactory senses. They produce huff-quack sounds which are their unique sounds like a mix between duck quack and pig snorts. They also produce other sounds such as squeal and hiss.
However, they rely on scent marking more than vocalizations to communicate. The scent sense on red pandas are so strong that a red panda mother even uses it to recognize their cubs by their scents.
15. Crepuscular Animal
Red pandas are not very active during the day. Instead, they are most active around the dusk and dawn time that make them a crepuscular animal. They are mostly active to search for food and eat. Red pandas are pretty active compared to giant pandas. They can spend up to 13 hours per day looking for food and eating them. But they still have to move slowly since their diet doesn’t give them much energy.