Red and Giant Panda - Ailurus fulgens, Ailuropoda melanoleuca
The Giant Panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanor. A member of the bear family, the giant panda is a robust animal with heavy shoulders and a distinctive black and white coat. It can weigh up to about 300 pounds, reach a length of about 4 to 5 feet and have a life span of about 20 years.
Most of the body and belly of the Giant Panda are white, contrasting sharply with the black ears, black limbs and shoulders, and black patches over the eyes. The male Giant Panda is slightly larger and heavier than the female.
It has a relatively large head and large, muscular jaws, while its molars and premolar teeth are wider and flatter than those of other bears, allowing it to grind bamboo. This species is also unusual in having a Ďthumbí, which is actually a modified wrist bone that enables the Giant Panda to dexterously grasp bamboo stalks.
The Giant Panda was once found in hilly ravines at lower elevations, but populations have now been forced into the mountains. This species can be found in temperate montane forest at elevations of around 4,000 to 12,000 feet, where there is an abundance of bamboo.
Unlike some other bear species, the Giant Panda does not hibernate, instead descending to lower elevations in winter to avoid severe weather. It may also make seasonal movements to different elevations to select certain bamboo species or to take advantage of new shoots in spring.
When the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) was first described in the early part of the 19th century, it caused a lot of confusion and controversy because of its similarities with both the bear and racoon family.
Today, scientists have classified them with the racoons, but in its own separate subfamily, the Ailurinae. The lustrous coat is a rich reddish brown color on the back and black on the legs; longer coarse guard hairs cover the dense woolly undercoat, which provides warmth.
Predominately solitary, Red Pandas are most active at dawn and dusk. They have semi-retractable claws, which allow them to be efficient climbers and when not foraging, pandas are usually found in the trees. Red pandas are one of the few animals whose diet is composed almost entirely on bamboo; they grasp stems with their forepaws and shear the leaves off with sharp teeth. Bamboo is poor in nutrients; to compensate, Red Pandas are only active for around half of the day and have an extremely slow metabolism. Other foods such as roots and fruit as well as small lizards and birdís eggs are also eaten.
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