Panda Bear

Panda Bear

Two different species are commonly known as Panda bear – Ailuropoda melanoleuca and Ailurus fulgens.

The Giant Panda
The scientific name for the giant panda bear – Ailuropoda melanoleuca – translates “black and white cat foot”. The name panda is derived from a Himalayan language, possibly Nepalese, but in the west the term panda used to refer only to the red panda (Ailurus fulgens). The giant panda bear was instead called mottled bear or parti-colored bear until the beginning of the 20th century. The Chinese name for the giant panda bear, Dàxióngmāo, translates “lager bear cat”. In a few regions, including Taiwan, the giant panda bear is instead called Māoxióng, which means “cat bear”.

The proper scientific classification of the giant panda bear has been much debated, but according to recent DNA testing the giant panda is a member of the bear family Ursidae. Earlier, the giant panda bear was considered by some to be more closely related to the raccoons in the Procyonidae family. The panda bear differs from the other members of the family Ursidae in several ways. Where the other bears have round pupils, the giant panda bear has vertical slits that gives it a cat like appearance. These pupils have given the giant panda bear names like “lager bear cat” and “cat bear” in its native region. The closest relative to the giant panda bear is the South American spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

There are two subspecies of the giant panda bear: Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca and Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis. Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca is chiefly found in the Sichuan region and features the typical panda coloration with distinct white and black contrasting colours. Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis will instead display a dark brown and light brown coat pattern. It will also differ from the other panda bear subspecies by having a smaller skull and bigger molars. Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis is endemic to the Qinling Mountains in the Shaanxi region and lives at elevations of 1300 to 3000 meters.  

The Red Panda
Ailurus fulgens is also known as the red panda, lesser panda and hǔo hú. The Chinese name hǔo hú translates “fire fox”, and can be used for both the red panda and the red fox. The red panda is also called xiǎo xióng māo in China, which means “small panda”. There are two subspecies of red panda: Ailurus fulgens fulgens and Ailurus fulgens styani. Ailurus fulgens fulgens can be found in China, Burma and Nepal. It differs from Ailurus fulgens by being a bit smaller and having lither facial fur. Ailurus fulgens styani is found in northern Burma and a few parts of China and can be recognized by its distinct facial markings. 

The proper scientific classification of the red panda has been heavily debated. Recent DNA testing show that the red panda is a distant relative of the weasels in the Mustelidae family, the skunks in the Mephitidae family, and the raccoons in the Procyonidae family. Earlier, the red panda was considered a member of the raccoon family Procyonidae, but today most experts have agreed to place them in their own family – Ailuridae, within the superfamily Mustelidae. Other experts do however claim that the red panda should be placed in the bear family Ursidae.

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