Panda Classification

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For many decades the precise taxonomic classification of the panda was under debate as both the giant panda and the distantly related Red Panda share characteristics of both bears and raccoons.

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Giant Panda
Giant Panda

However, molecular studies suggest that giant pandas are true bears and part of the Ursidae family,though they differentiated early in history from the main ursine stock. The giant panda's closest ursine relative is the Spectacled Bear of South America. Disagreement still remains about whether or not the red panda belongs in Ursidae, the raccoon family Procyonidae, or in its own family, Ailuridae. The giant panda has been referred to as a living fossil

The Red Panda and the giant panda, although completely different in appearance, share several features. They both live in the same habitat, they both live on a similar bamboo diet, and they both share a unique enlarged bone called the pseudo thumb, which allows them to grip the bamboo shoots they eat.

Giant Panda
Giant Panda

Subspecies of Giant Panda

Two subspecies of giant panda have been recognized on the basis of distinct cranial measurements, color patterns, and population genetics (Wan et al., 2005).

Ailuropoda melanoleuca melanoleuca consists of most extant populations of panda. These animals are principally found in Sichuan and display the typical stark black and white contrasting colors.

Giant Panda
Giant Panda

Qinling Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca qinlingensis is restricted to the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi at elevations of 1300-3000 m. The typical black and white pattern of Sichuan Pandas is replaced with a dark brown versus light brown pattern. The skull of A. m. qinlingensis is smaller than its relatives, and it has larger molars.

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