Do you have a lot of questions about pandas? Are pandas bears or marsupials? Are they dangerous?

Univers de Panda is THE site for pandas lovers. Our team of little pandas have come together to answer these questions in detail.

Yes ! Pandas are bears 🐻 ! You might think that this big bear is not part of the Ursidae (bear) family and put it with marsupials (koala, kangaroo). Indeed, if the cubs are small, the giant pandas are even smaller. This characteristic can be found in monotremes and marsupials. Marsupials give birth to babies which finish growing in the mother's pouch. But, despite that, the giant panda is not a marsupial but a bear! Let's see in this article why the panda is considered a bear.

In this article, you will learn:

  • Who are the ancestors of pandas?
  • What family do pandas belong to?
  • Is the red panda related to the giant panda?
  • What family is the panda in?
  • Are bears dangerous?
  • What is special about pandas?

Let's go !

Panda plush panda universe


To understand the classification of the panda, it is necessary to understand the origins of pandas and study their ancestors. Let's go!


The scientific name of the panda is "Ailuropoda melanoleuca" which means "black and white cat paw". Over the years, this fat cat has been dubbed:

  • Pi Xiu (Evil Spirit Hunter)
  • Mo, Meng Shi Shou (beast of prey)
  • Bai Bao (white leopard)
  • Shi Tie Shou (iron eater)
  • Daxiongmao (big bear-cat)
  • Bamboo bear
  • Money dog
  • The raccoon

With all the nicknames we have given him, we are a little lost in the classification of the giant panda ... the ancestors of the giant panda ?

Giant panda panda universe

Who are the ancestors of pandas?

Today we know three common ancestors of pandas:

  • Cynoidea
  • Ailurarctos
  • Kretzoiarctos

The giant panda belongs to the order of carnivorous. Their oldest carnivore ancestor, Créodont, lived in the Paleocene, 60 million years ago. Miacis, the direct descendant of Créodont, split into two branches. One of the branches, the Feloidea, consists of modern mammals looking like cats. The other branch, the Cynoidea, is made up of modern mammals resembling bears.

baby panda pajamas panda universe

  • Ailurarctos

The ancestor of the giant panda, the Ailurarctos, lived 8-9 million years ago. Since then, giant pandas have evolved and adapted to geological and climatic changes, giving rise to the modern giant panda. The fossils revealed that they lived near the marshes and did not eat bamboo. It's because the panda has migrated in a unique ecological environment that he began to feed on bamboo 🎋, to avoid food competitors.

Evolution of pandas panda universe

  • Kretzoiarctos

The oldest ancestor of the panda was discovered on December 7, 2012, older than the Ailurarctos. Not in China, but in Spain! It is an extinct bear that ate hard plants like bamboo. This bear was named Kretzoiarctos, the oldest documented bear in the Iberian Peninsula, but also the oldest of the giant panda lineage. This group of bears was dark with white spots. This new discovery suggests that the line of giant pandas is not from Asia, as we have long thought, but rather Western European.

the origin of the panda universe of panda


What family do pandas belong to?

Giant pandas belong to the ursidae family. Ursidae belong to an ancient family of mammals. The first traces go back 35 million years. At that time, their jaws were distinct from those of other carnivores. Their teeth are larger and less pointed, a dentition adapted to omnivorous food. All eight bear species today belong to the same family.

Indeed, they share a common origin. Their most distant relatives are Filholictis or Ballusia. The line of Ursidae is then divided into three main branches:

  • The large panda group, which includes a small group of related species
  • Short-faced bears
  • The Ursus are found in the northern hemisphere, with six species, including the brown bear (ursus arctos) and the black bear (ursus americanus).

evolution of bears panda universe


The red panda is an omnivorous mammal native to the Himalayas. From its scientific name Ailurus fulgens, it is also called little panda, red panda, cat bear, little panda or fire fox. A bunch of confusing little names! Besides, if you are interested in the Firefox nickname of the red panda, we have devoted an article to this subject!

red panda panda universe

Similarities between the big panda and the red panda.

The giant panda and the red panda are animals that share more than one name. Indeed, the red panda and the giant panda share two very special similarities ≈. But if they share common characteristics, does that mean that the red panda is a bear ?

  • Food

Like the giant panda, the red panda is a vegetarian carnivore 🤔, very unusual behavior! Their main food is bamboo. This low energy food explains the placid nature of the two animals. They must eat a large amount of leaves 🍃 to compensate for his deficiencies and thus pass 13 hours a day to feed. For this reason, the red panda limits its energy expenditure as much as possible and looks like a sloth. This specialized diet makes them dependent on bamboo 😅 and explains their disappearance.

red panda panda universe

  • A thumb

To catch bamboo shoots, the panda has a fake thumb on its forelimbs: this thumb is called the sixth finger of the panda 🤙. It is the most characteristic adaptation of this species. It is used to grab bamboo, peel it and bring it to one's mouth. This device allows him to handle food with great dexterity. But beware ! It is not a question of an opposable thumb as in primates, but ofa modified wrist bone 🦴 which acts like a fake thumb.

red panda panda universe

Are red pandas bears?

The classification of the red panda as living fossil has long been problematic. Even though they look like raccoons, they have some similarities to bears. Thus, they were classified alternately with large pandas or with raccoons.

The common ancestor of large and small pandas is the ancestor of all bears, pinnipeds (seals and walruses), and Musteloidea (weasels and otters. DNA studies show that the red panda has moved away from bears about 40 million years ago. DNA places the red panda in its own independent family, the Ailuridae. The Ailuridae family is a family of mammals of the order Carnivores, comprising extinct species, and the red panda. Indeed, the red panda is neither a bear nor a fox.

raccoon panda universe

So the giant panda is a bear from the same family as the brown bear and the polar bear (ursus maritimus). But the red panda, although it shares some characteristics with the giant panda, is not a bear.




What family is the panda in?

The panda is a member of the Ursidae family, bear family 🐻. This family is made up of 8 different species:

  • 4 Asian bears: the big panda, the Asian black bear, the Malaysian bear (the sun bear), the sloth bear.
  • Two American bears: the black bear and the bespectacled bear.
  • Two transcontinental bears: brown bear and polar bear.

Bears are found everywhere on earth except on the African continent. They are considered opportunistic omnivores, able to eat roots, insects, fruits, small or large mammals, fish ... And like humans, bears are plantigrades: they put their entire paws on the ground. This allows them to get on all fours as if they were standing! And there are many characteristics surrounding the development of the baby bear! Cubs are born blind and hairless.

infographic evolution of pandas panda universe

The Bears all have very myopic eyes compensated by an overdeveloped sense of smell. This allows them not only to feed themselves, but also to sense the presence of a mate. They are also solitary animals, who only look for the presence of their congeners for breeding season. If two males meet, they fight or bully each other until one gives in.

Bears hibernate, which allows them to slow down their bodily functions for the winter. They fall asleep 😴, their temperature drops and their brain remains active in case of danger 😏. They don't eat, drink or defecate, which reduces their energy expenditure in order to spend the winter without problem.

bear and his little panda universe

Are bears dangerous?

A bear can be dangerous! Bears are far from the angelic faces of our children's soft toys! Unpredictable animals, bears are wild and feared by humans and herds. Yet, according to statistics, bears are much less dangerous than bees, worms and mosquitoes. 😅 ! Among the 8 species of bears, polar bears and grizzly bears are the most dangerous to humans.

There are two types of bear attacks, which every hiker should identify to increase their chances of survival:

  • Defensive bear attacks : the most frequent, illustrated by the classic case of a mother with her young. Faced with this type of attack, playing dead seems to be the best solution.
  • Predatory bear attacks : bear attack for a hunt, in order to feed. Here, combat is unfortunately the only possible solution to escape this predation.

panda universe bear

Do you think pandas are dangerous? The giant panda is a vegetarian bear and less dangerous than the polar bear, which feeds on carcasses. His food does not allow him to consider winning a fight. The giant panda only attacks if it feels in danger! Although clumsy, the panda will have no trouble tearing you apart with its claws and powerful jaw! This adorable ball of fur even attacked a French president. We are therefore wary of this beautiful stuffed animal.


Classified in the bear family, the giant panda admits some peculiarities. The panda is an unusual bear. It is considered by scientists to be a living fossil. He has an exceptional black and white coat. He has a fake thumb and feeds exclusively on bamboo while its digestive system is carnivorous. Finally, the panda is a bear that does not hibernate, but migrates!

Black and white bear

The panda has a particular fur. It is black and white, the ears and the eye area are black, the rest of the head is white. This very distinctive two-tone color is unique in bears.

Why are pandas black and white ? The only bear with such a sharp coat is the Spectacled Bear, the giant panda's closest relative. Its coat allows it to camouflage itself in winter with the color white, and to camouflage itself in summer with the color black for shaded areas. The black eye area allows pandas to be distinguished from each other.

cute giant panda baby panda universe

Food for panda and a thumb

  • Food

The eight species of ursids are distributed in the whole world. This wide geographical distribution reveals a great capacity for adaptation. The most striking example is that of food, opportunistically, bears eat what they find. Giant herbivorous pandas carnivorous polar bears, each species has evolved to adapt to its habitat. The giant panda, and the vegetarian bear of the eight species, only eat meat as a last resort. Maybe that's why pandas live longer: look how long do pandas live? 🙃

panda eating panda universe

  • Thumb

All bear species have strong claws and non-retractable and have five toes on their legs. Giant pandas have an extra inch on their front legs. This sixth finger, which occupies the place of the thumb in humans or in great apes, is an elongated wrist bone. Pandas use this characteristic to grab bamboo.

sleeping panda panda universe

The panda does not hibernate

All bears don't need to hibernate. Because contrary to legend, the bear does not hibernate, it winters. It does not fall into lethargy but takes shelter in a den, where it folds in on itself to conserve its body heat. The bear species who spend the winter are those who experience periods of intense cold: the polar bear, the brown bear ... but not the Malaysian bear or the giant panda because they find food all year round. In addition, the panda that feeds on 99% bamboo does not have enough energy for winter🥱.

panda in the tree panda universe

The panda is a special bear which shares many characteristics with its cousins, including its vulnerability to human activity which destroys bear habitat. In fact, eight species of bear currently live on the planet, six of which are endangered animals.

The giant panda recently left the red list. It was moved out of the "endangered" category thanks to bear conservation policies and to China's conservation efforts. But he remains vulnerable. Malaysian bear, Asian black bear, Spectacled bear, and Sloth bear are on the IUCN list of vulnerable species. And the polar bear could well be extinct by the end of the century due to global warming. Brown bear, American black bear and Kodiak bear are classified by IUCN as less important due to the large bear population. 


So you now know that the panda is a bear, but above all a special bear, a real living fossil. We have just seen that the panda shares many similarities with other categories of bears, especially its vulnerability human development.

At Univers de Panda, we defend the idea that education is an essential lever for the conservation of a species. That's why we strive to educate young people and adults by sharing our knowledge about the panda.

Join us now!

panda decoration panda universe

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