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Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)

Activity Cycle

  • Can be diurnal, crepuscular, and/or nocturnal
  • Active 45% - 49% of the time
  • Activity levels highest in summer
  • Numerous rest periods throughout the day interspersed with feeding activity
  • Energy-saving strategy compensates for low-quality diet
  • Excellent tree climbers – rest/sleep in trees (spread out in warm weather, curled when it is cold)
  • More frequent rest periods in winter – can be greater than 2 hours in duration
  • Opportunistic feeders – spend 10 - 12 hours/day feeding/foraging on ground
  • Activity varies throughout year in response to temperature, feeding opportunities
  • Grooming: occurs while in a tree and shortly after awakening or eating
    • Stretching, licking, and "washing" face with fore and hind paws
    • Done in a cat-like, sitting posture (Roberts 1981). Tongue is applied to legs, chest, flanks, tail, and genitals with a downward motion
    • Tail may be drawn with forepaws toward mouth for cleaning

Movements and dispersal

Home range

  • Very few radio collar studies – Home range (1 - 10 sq km) extremely variable
  • Home ranges among adjacent individuals overlap (Wei & Zhang 2011)
  • Territories defined by scent markings – urine and anal gland secretions rubbed onto tree stumps and rocks
  • Trails are automatically marked by secretion from glands on soles of feet
  • Places marked by other Red pandas are thoroughly sniffed and licked

Social Behavior

  • Solitary during non-breeding season
  • Found in small groups during breeding season

Communication

Displays / Visual Signs

  • Eye tracts and forehead patterns are thought to be unique – animals can recognize one another
  • Individuals stare at each other when separated by considerable distance

Vocalization

  •  7 distinct calls have been recorded (Roberts 1981)
    • Whistle: high frequency distress call of infants under 3 months of age
    • Quack-snort: discreet bursts of sound – low frequency threat call made during agonistic encounters; usually one or both forepaws are raised in threat or defense
    • Twitter: compound, high frequency, modulated call heard during breeding season (January – mid-March); produced by both sexes but more frequently by males
    • Squeal: high frequency call made when under attack
    • Bleat: low frequency, rapidly repeated syllable (similar to twitter) made during breeding season
    • Exhale: prolonged, audible expulsion of breath
    • Snort: sudden, explosive exhalation of breath (may be emitted during contact with another animal)

Olfaction/Scent Marking                 

  • Mark territory with urine and feces; use specific defecation sites
  • Anogenital gland secretions rubbed on raised sticks, rocks
  • Small pores on pads of males' feet leave scent trails
  • Underside of the tip of the tongue has enlarged papillae, which is used to inspect scents

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

  • Aggression is rare – may occur during mating season
  • Arching of back and tail, slow raising and lowering of head while emitting low intensity puffing
  • Jaw-clapping, shaking head from side to side
  • Opponents eventually stand on hind legs and bat each other with fore paws

Other Behaviors

  • Social play among cubs and mating couples includes lunging, wrestling, biting

Thermoregulation

  • Can reduce their metabolism without reducing core body temperature
  • Sleep in tightly curled position to conserve heat loss

Locomotion

  •  Traveling
    • Gait is bear-like (forelegs swing inward)
    • In Qionglai Mountains, China, daily distance traveled: 235 - 481 m
  • Tree climbing
    • Extremely agile – very flexible joints; flexible pelvic and pectoral girdles
    • Always descend head first, gripping trunk with hind claws
    • Tail used for support and balance

Restful Pose

Red Panda asleep

Red panda rest many times throughout the day to conserve energy.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Note about Studies on Red Pandas

*Very few studies of Red pandas in the wild. First serious study by Brian Hodgson in 1830s.

From the 1847 description of the Red panda by B.H. Hodgson:

   These quiet inoffensive animals in their
   manners and diet, much resemble the badgers
   of our land, the lemurs of Madagascar and the
   raccoons, coatis and potos of America....In
   general they eschew flesh, fish, insects, and
   reptiles absolutely. But they love milk and
   ghee, and constantly make their way furtively
   into remote dairies and cowherds' cottages to
   possess themselves of those luxuries. Their
   ordinary feeding times are early morn and eve.
   They sleep a deal in the day and dislike strong
   lights, though not nocturnal in their habits of
   seeking food. Their manners are staid and
   tranquil; their movements slow and deliberate.
   They are delicate animals and cannot endure
   heat at all, nor cold well, amply and entirely as
   they are clad in fur. They are not pugnacious
   nor noisy, but remarkably the contrary of both.
   As climbers, no quadrupeds can surpass, and
   very few equal them, but on the ground they
   move awkwardly as well as slowly, yet without
   any special embarrassment."

Hodgson pen and ink drawing of Red Panda

Pen and ink drawing of Red pandas by B.H. Hodgson.

Source: Hodgson BH. 1847. On the cat-toed subplantigrades of the sub-Himalayas. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 16(2):1113-1129.
Downloaded from Google Books.

Scent Detection

Red Panda sniffing a branch

Smell is an important sense for red pandas.

The tongue has structures for enhanced scent detection abilities.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Hodgson (1830)
Reid, Jinchu & Yan (1991)
Roberts (1981)
Wei & Zhang (2011)

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