Red pandas and giant pandas share a similar name—and a love for bamboo—but they aren’t closely related. Scientists think that red pandas are more closely related to weasels, raccoons, and skunks. And while giant pandas spend most of their time plodding around on the ground looking for food, red pandas spend about 90 percent of their time in the trees in the misty mountains of Nepal, Myanmar, and central China where they live.
In fact, red pandas have adapted so well to life in the trees that they’re famous for their incredible acrobatic skills. They even have a special thumb-like wrist bone that helps them get an extra grip when climbing. While they can’t exactly extend their arms like an acrobat to keep their balance, they can use their tails. If a red panda starts to lean in one direction, it can swing its tail the opposite way to steady itself.
Spending time in trees is how these animals avoid predators, such as snow leopards. Their reddish coats and white face markings provide camouflage in the red-brown moss and white lichen of trees where they live. And they scamper down tree trunks headfirst. How? They rotate their ankles 180 degrees—that’s like being able to turn your foot backward. The move gives their curved claws a better angle to hang on to the bark.