panda, name for two nocturnal Asian mammals of the order Carnivora: the red panda, Ailurus fulgens, and the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca.
The red panda, also known as lesser panda and cat bear, is found at high elevations in the Himalayas and the mountains of W China and N Myanmar. It resembles a raccoon but has a longer body and tail and a more rounded head. It is about 3.5 ft (105 cm) in total length and weighs about 12 lb (5.5 kg). The very thick fur is rust color to deep chestnut, with black on the under parts, limbs, and ears; there are dark eye patches on the white face. The red panda spends much of its time in trees but feeds on the ground, eating primarily bamboo leaves but also fruit, roots, and other plant matter. It is the sole member of the family Ailuridae.
The giant panda superficially resembles a bear, but its classification has been disputed; genetic research, however, indicates it is related to the bears, family Ursidae. The body is chiefly white, and the limbs are brownish black, with the dark color extending up over the shoulder. The ears and eye patches are black. Adults weigh from 200 to 300 lb (90–140 kg) and are from 4.5 to 5 ft (140–150 cm) long with a 5-in. (13-cm) tail. Giant pandas live in restricted areas of the high mountain bamboo forests of central China; their diet consists almost entirely of bamboo shoots. Rare in the wild, they breed poorly in captivity, but using artificial insemination and techniques designed to enable a female panda to raise twins, Chinese scientists have greatly improved the reproduction rate of captive pandas. Giant pandas are protected by law in China.
Pandas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, families Ailuridae and Ursidae.
See E. B. Schaller et al., The Giant Pandas of Wolong (1985); D. MacClintock, Red Pandas (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.