Red pandas aren’t pandas. Despite their name, red pandas aren’t actually closely related to giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), but it wasn’t until the last ten or fifteen years that scientists settled upon just where red pandas fit on the evolutionary tree of life.
It was clear that red pandas were members of the taxonomic “infraorder” Arctoidea, placing them in a group with bears, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus), raccoons, and mustelids (weasels, skunks, otters, and badgers).
Research published in 2000 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution determined that they were not most closely related to bears or to raccoons as had been previously suggested.
Instead, red pandas form their own phylogenetic family, alongside skunks, raccoons, and mustelids.
From a genetic perspective, they’re more like the skunks and raccoons you might find in your own backyard than the giant pandas with whom they share habitats.
Herbivorous carnivoran. As a member of the Order Carnivora, the red panda is a carnivoran.
But unlike most carnivorans, it’s not actually a carnivore.
That is, the red panda is a mostly an herbivore.
It’s actually one way in which the red panda is more like the giant panda than its genetic relatives: its diet consists almost entirely of bamboo leaves, plus bamboo shoots when in season, and the occasional fruit, flower, and (rarely) an odd egg or bird.