Everybody loves panda bears; those big, rolly-polly black and white darlings that live in China. if you're like me, you can't get enough of watching their adorable antics. But did you know that there is a red version? Yep. A red panda that's not really a panda at all...or is he?
The red panda is a furry little critter with a "lush red coat, a bushy tail, and a masked face" kind of like a cross between a fox and a raccoon. But while they both live in China and eat bamboo, this is where the similarities end. The giant panda is more closely related to a bear while the red panda is more akin to the fox or even a skunk.
Red pandas are about the size of a domestic cat. "Its body ranges from 50 to 64 cm (20 to 25 in) and its tail is 28 to 59 cm (11 to 23 in). Males are slightly heavier than females, with the average adult panda weighing 3.0 to 6.2 kg (6.6 to 13.7 lb)." Their bushy tail has six rings which serve as camouflage against trees. their thick, luxurious fur protects them from the winter cold and ice. The red panda's body is designed to help him with eating bamboo. Their front legs are shorter than their back ones which makes them "waddle" when they walk. They have curved claws which are semi-retractable and, like the giant panda, have a false thumb that aids them with climbing. I think one of the most interesting aspects of these critters is the fact that they are one of only a few species who can rotate their ankles in order to control their head-first descent down a tree.
Red pandas are territorial and solitary except during mating season. They spend their days sleeping in trees and their nights marking their territory with urine and looking for food. Much like a cat, they groom themselves. Their communication system is a series of whistling and twittering sounds. pandas are only comfortable when the temperatures are between 63 degrees and 73 degrees Fahrenheit (17-25 C.) When they become cold, they curl up and cover their faces to conserve heat. When it gets too hot, they drape themselves over the limb of a tree and dangle their legs.
Red panda fossils have been found as far away as North America but today they are only found in "temperate forests of southeast China and the eastern Himalayas." The pandas living in the western portion of their range are larger and generally a little deeper in color.
Like the giant panda, the red panda cannot digest the cellulose in bamboo so they must literally eat their weight in bamboo shoot every single day. Nearly two-thirds of the red panda's diet consists of bamboo shoots and leaves. The other third is made up berries, flowers, mushrooms, insects, and the occasional fish. "One interesting fact about the red panda is that it is the only non-primate known to taste artificial sweeteners. Scientists speculate the ability helps the animal identify a natural compound in food with a similar chemical structure, influencing its diet."
The IUCN listed the red panda as endangered in 2008. The worldwide population is estimated to be between 2500 and 22,000 individuals...best guess, as these pandas are a bit tricky to spot and count in the wild. "The red panda faces multiple threats, including deforestation of bamboo, increased death from canine distemper due to human encroachment, habitat loss, and poaching for the pet and fur trades. Over half of red panda deaths are directly related to human activity."
The good news here is that captive breeding programs at several zoos are helping to protect the red panda's genetic diversity and to help raise awareness of this often little -known creature.
I hope you'll come back tomorrow and join me for a look at another, hopefully, interesting subject. Until then, I wish you all