Temporal range: Oligocene–Recent
Red panda
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Caniformia
Infraorder: Arctoidea
Superfamily: Musteloidea
Family: Ailuridae
Gray, 1843

Amphictis ()
Alopecocyon ()
Protursus ()
Simocyon ()
Magerictis ()
Pristinailurus ()
Parailurus ()

Extant red panda distribution.

Ailuridae is a family in the mammal order Carnivora. The family comprises the red panda (the sole living representative) and its extinct relatives.

Frédéric Georges Cuvier first described Ailurus as belonging to the raccoon family in 1825; this classification has been controversial ever since.[1] It was classified in the raccoon family because of morphological similarities of the head, colored ringed tail, and other morphological and ecological characteristics. Somewhat later, it was assigned to the bear family.

Molecular phylogenetic studies show that, as an ancient species in the order Carnivora, the red panda is relatively close to the American raccoon and may be either a monotypic family or a subfamily within the procyonid family.[1][2][3] An in-depth mitochondrial DNA population analysis study[4] stated: “According to the fossil record, the Red Panda diverged from its common ancestor with bears about 40 million years ago (Mayr 1986). With this divergence, by comparing the sequence difference between the red panda and the raccoon, the observed mutation rate for the red panda was calculated to be on the order of 109, which is apparently an underestimate compared with the average rate in mammals.[5] This underestimation is probably due to multiple recurrent mutations as the divergence between the red panda and the raccoon is extremely deep.”

The most recent molecular-systematic DNA research places the red panda into its own independent family, Ailuridae. Ailuridae are, in turn, part of a trichotomy within the broad superfamily Musteloidea (Flynn et al., 2001) that also includes the Procyonidae (raccoons) and a group that further subdivides into the Mephitidae (skunks) and Mustelidae (weasels); but it is not a bear (Ursidae).[6]

Red pandas have no close living relatives, and their nearest fossil ancestors, Parailurus, lived 3-4 million years ago. There may have been as many as three different species of Parailurus, all larger and more robust in the head and jaw, living in Europe and Asia but possibly crossing the Bering Strait into the Americas. The red panda may be the sole surviving species - a specialized offshoot surviving the Ice Age in a Chinese mountain refuge.[7]


In addition to Ailurus, the family Ailuridae includes eight extinct genera, most of which are assigned to three subfamilies, Amphicinae, Simocyoninae, and Ailurinae.[8][9][10][11][12]


  1. 1 2 Mayr, E (1986). "Uncertainty in Science: is the Giant panda a bear or a raccoon?". Nature. 323 (6091): 769–771. doi:10.1038/323769a0. PMID 3774006.
  2. Zhang, YP & Ryder, OA (1993). "Mitochondrial DNA sequence evolution in the Arctoidea". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 90 (20): 9557–9561. doi:10.1073/pnas.90.20.9557. PMC 47608Freely accessible. PMID 8415740.
  3. Slattery JP & O'Brien, SJ (1995). "Molecular Phylogeny of the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)". J. Hered. 86 (6): 413–422. PMID 8568209.
  4. Su, Bing, Yunxin Fu, Yingxiang Wang, Li Jin and Ranajit Chakraborty (2001). "Genetic Diversity and Population History of the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) as Inferred from Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variations". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 18 (6): 1070–1076. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a003878. PMID 11371595.
  5. Li, WH (1997). Molecular Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.
  6. "Whence the Red Panda" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-02-25.
  7. Roberts, MS & Gittleman, JL (1984). "Ailurus fulgens". Mammalian Species. American Society of Mammalogists. 222 (222): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3503840. JSTOR 3503840.
  8. McKenna, MC & Bell SK (1997). Classification of Mammals Above the Species Level. Columbia University Press.
  9. Peigné, S., M. Salesa, M. Antón, and J. Morales (2005). "Ailurid carnivoran mammal Simocyon from the late Miocene of Spain and the systematics of the genus". Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 50: 219–238.
  10. Salesa, M., M. Antón, S. Peigné, and J. Morales (2006). "Evidence of a false thumb in a fossil carnivore clarifies the evolution of pandas". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (2): 379–382. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504899102. PMC 1326154Freely accessible. PMID 16387860.
  11. Wallace, SC & Wang, X (2004). "Two new carnivores from an unusual late Tertiary forest biota in eastern North America". Nature. 431 (7008): 556–559. doi:10.1038/nature02819. PMID 15457257.
  12. Morlo, M., and S. Peigné. "Molecular and morphological evidence for Ailuridae and a review of its genera." Carnivoran Evolution: New views on phylogeny, form, and function (2010): 92-140.

Further reading

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