Introducing the giant panda
The giant panda is often described as a panda bear. However, for many many years now, there has been an ongoing debate on whether it is actually a member of the bear family or a member of the raccoon family, or if it is in a family all of its own.
Back in 1869, the panda was classified as Ursus melanoleucus, which means black and white bear. It showed many similarities to other Asian bears, including the black bear and the sun bear. However a year later anatomists decided it wasn’t a bear at all and reclassified it as a member of the raccoon family and was given a new name: Ailuropoda melanoleuca, meaning black and white foot. This name has stuck, even though there is still doubt as to whether it is a type of raccoon or not.
The debate continued and still continues to this day, as experts try to decide where the lovely giant panda belongs. It does however appear to be related to the red panda, which is also known as the lesser panda.
The red panda does have similar features to raccoons, including a similar size and shape and a ringed tail, which raccoons also have. This of course gives support to the belief that the panda is a member of the raccoon family.
However, the panda has many bear-like characteristics that the red panda does not have. Analysis of the panda’s DNA as well as its brain, ears and respiratory system show it to be similar to the bear. In fact DNA evidence suggests that both the red panda and the giant panda are closer to bears than to raccoons.
It may just be that the panda has evolved, due to its natural habitat of bamboo forests to look like a bear, even though it is not related. In fact the earliest fossil found in China of a giant panda shows it to be half the size of the panda we know today.
The panda would probably tell us where it belonged, if it could stop sleeping, eating and playing for a moment.