Panda, the name of two mammals of Asia, the lesser panda and the giant panda.

The lesser panda resembles a heavily built cat. It is rust-colored above and black below and has a ringed tail. It has a white face with dark eye patches. Lesser pandas feed at night on bamboo, grass, fruit, and roots. They grow to 45 inches (114 cm) in length and weigh up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg). They live in trees in the mountains of Burma, Nepal, and southwestern China.

The giant pandaThe giant panda resembles a black and white bear.

The giant panda resembles a bear, and many zoologists classify it as a member of the bear family. It has a thick, white, woolly coat with black eye patches, ears, legs, and shoulders. It grows to 6 feet (180 cm) in length and weighs up to 300 pounds (136 kg). The giant panda feeds almost exclusively on bamboo. Giant pandas are solitary animals except during the breeding season. The female gives birth to one or two cubs in August or September. A newborn cub weighs 5 ounces (140 g) or less.

Giant pandas are endangered, mainly because of human encroachment on their habitat. There are fewer than 1,000 giant pandas in the wild; they are protected within several wildlife reserves in the mountain forests of central China. Giant pandas are poached for their pelts.

How Does the Giant Panda Fit In?

A giant panda is often called a panda bear. But not all scientists agree that it belongs in the bear family. At one time, the giant panda and a similar animal, the red panda, were placed in the raccoon family. Pandas share many traits with raccoons. For one thing, they have similar markings. They also use their front paws to grasp food. It’s easy to see why scientists grouped these animals together.

Now, however, scientists tell a lot about an animal by studying its genes. Genes are tiny items found within an animal’s cells. But genes have a big job. They decide such traits as fur color, body size, and eye color of an animal. Many scientists think giant pandas and bears have similar genes. They say that giant pandas belong in the bear family.Other scientists think giant and red pandas are so closely related to each other that they should be placed in their own family—the panda family.

Are Giant Pandas Picky Eaters?

Yes! Giant pandas rarely eat anything but plants. And they eat mainly one kind of plant. They feed on bamboo shoots, stems, and leaves found in the bamboo forests of China.

Compared to most bears, giant pandas are actually quite small. They weigh around 200 to 300 pounds (90 to 140 kilograms). But they eat a lot for their size. Giant pandas eat up to 85 pounds (39 kilograms) of bamboo every day. Giant pandas have back teeth that are very wide and flat. These teeth help the panda grind all that bamboo.

China once had a lot of bamboo. But the bamboo forests are disappearing fast. Giant pandas are losing their homes and food supply. That’s why these animals are endangered. There are probably fewer than 1,000 left in the wild. China now has laws to protect giant pandas.

The lesser panda is Ailurus fulgens. Some biologists place the lesser panda in the raccoon family, Procyonidae; others place it in a family called Ailuridae. The giant panda is Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Some biologists place the giant panda in the bear family, Ursidae; others in its own family, Ailuropodidae; still others in the family Ailuridae.