The red panda's adorable appearance steals the spotlight, but there's more to these tree-dwelling fluff balls than meets the eye. For one, even though they're known as ‘the lesser panda' – the red panda isn’t actually related to the giant panda, although they were once thought to be kin.
To be fair, they've also been called ‘fire foxes' and ‘red cat-bears,' and they are neither foxes, cats, nor bears! Read on to find out more fun facts about the red panda.
The Closest Red Panda Relatives Are Not Bears at All
Giant pandas and red pandas both live in bamboo forests in Asia. Unlike the giant panda, though, the red panda isn’t closely connected to the bear family. DNA analysis shows that the red panda’s closest relatives are raccoons, weasels and skunks.
Extra Thumbs up for the Red Panda!
Both the red panda and the giant panda possess a “false thumb,” which is an extra bone sticking out of the side of their paw. This gives them a better grip when chewing on bamboo.
And Baby Makes Three (Or Four… or Five… or Six)
Red panda mothers give birth to litters of up to four cubs, which they keep warm and snug in a hollowed-out tree or rock crevice. The babies are born covered in fur, but their eyes stay closed for the first month of life.
What Do You Call a Group of Red Pandas?
You could call them a pack, but you wouldn’t really need to call them anything. Red pandas are solitary creatures who prefer to hang out on their own, except during breeding season.
Not Tree-Shaped, but Surprisingly Good at Hiding
Despite their glamorous coats of red and white fur, red pandas camouflage quite well in their habitats, blending in with patches of red moss and white lichen.
Cute but Ravenous
Red pandas have to eat quite a lot to keep their energy up, because their digestive systems aren’t well-suited to their bamboo diet. Although their teeth are adapted to plants, their guts still resemble their carnivorous ancestors, so they spend about half of their waking hours nibbling bamboo leaves.
Gigantic (And Less Adorable) Ancestors
The earliest known relatives of the red panda date back about 25 million years. About five million years ago, before the last Ice Age, you might have seen a super-sized version of the red panda (with a similar “false thumb”) measuring roughly the size of a puma.
Red Pandas Don’t Need Alarm Clocks
Red pandas spend most of the day sleeping in high branches, but when the sun starts to set, they get ready to prowl (with a few more naps scattered throughout the night for good measure.)
What Does a Red Panda Picnic Look Like?
Although red pandas do have quite a specialized diet of bamboo, they will snack on fruits and blossoms, or any eggs they come across. They will even munch on small rodents or birds now and then.
Tree-Top Living and Daring Descents
The red panda’s teeth and claws aren’t optimized for self-defense, but their claws do help them climb into the forest canopy for food and shelter. High branches might help them avoid predators such as snow predators and martens. Red pandas grip so well that they can climb down head first when they want to descend.
Study Shows That Looking at Cute Animals Increases Well-being
It's no wonder looking at Red Pandas is fun. Researchers took a look at people's sense of well-being after looking at cute pictures and found their sense of well-being had improved.