Is a bear always a bear?

Keeper Marilyn did a good job of outlining the different kinds of bears in her recent post. But did you know there has been quite a bit of debate about whether one those she listed should be considered a bear?
Giant Panda feasting on bamboo

Panda bears or more correctly Giant Pandas are native to China and certainly look like bears. But what about the Red Panda? Obviously, it got the name “panda” because it shares many of the features of it’s larger namesake. It eats bamboo and lives in the same part of the world. But currently only the Giant Panda is considered a member of the family Ursidae (if you don’t remember how scientific classification works check out an older post). In recent history scientists have debated how exactly the Pandas should be classified. For a while, many believed that the both Pandas fit best in the family Procyonidae (which includes raccoons). Current thinking places the Red Panda into its own family known as the Ailuridae. They are the only living species in the group. Newer evidence continues to support the view that the Giant Panda should be considered a true bear (Family Ursidae) but indicates that the Giant Panda is not as closely related to other bear species as they are to each other.

Red Panda feasting on bamboo

Many of the shared body characteristics of the two pandas are probably the result of convergent evolution. If this hypothesis is correct, the similarities in hand shape and facial morphology resulted from their shared bamboo diets and habitats, not because they shared recent ancestor.

Photos used in accordance with policy@ Wikicommons

1 response to Is a bear always a bear?

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    Marilyn says:

    This is really interesting to think about, especially because pandas have been known as “bears” for so long. Often times it amazes me to think about the types of animals that are closely related, but I would never have guessed it from their looks!

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