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panda

panda, name for two unrelated nocturnal Asian mammals of the order Carnivora, red pandas, genus Ailurus, and the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca.

Red pandas, also known as lesser pandas and cat bears, are found in forest at high elevations in the Himalayas and the mountains of S China and N Myanmar. There are two species (formerly considered subspecies), the Chinese red panda, A. styani, found in Yunnan and Sichuan prov., and the Himalayan red panda, A. fulgens, found in NE India, Nepal, Bhutan, N Myanmar, Tibet, and W Yunnan. Red pandas resemble raccoons but have a longer body and tail and a more rounded head. They are 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 Chinese species has a redder forehead and more pronounced tail rings. Red pandas spend much of the time in trees but feed on the ground, eating primarily bamboo leaves but also fruit, roots, and other plant matter. They are the sole members 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.

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