Red pandas are native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China. They have white-lined ears, a ringed tail, and dense reddish-brown fur with a black belly and legs and bear a certain resemblance to raccoons and foxes. The animal’s distinct and endearing appearance has made it a leading candidate for anthropomorphic depictions in art, film, and commercial material.
For example, the Firefox web browser mascot isn’t actually a fox, but a red panda! But to be fair, the red panda isn’t a panda (bear) either — though they’re distantly related, and red pandas were actually called “pandas” long before their more popular black-and-white cousins. Recent genetic research categorized the red panda into their own family: Ailuridae. The species has no close living relatives, and their nearest fossil ancestors lived approximately three to four million years ago.
Inspired by Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which prominently features these creatures, Aya Sato explains the unique biological history of the red panda.