Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by chet. chet Wonders, “What are red pandas?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, chet!

Here’s a riddle for you: What’s black, white, and red all over? If you’re thinking of a newspaper, you’re almost right! Newspapers are certainly READ all over. But if you’re looking for something black, white, and RED all over, it’s the red panda.

Red panda? Yes, you read that right! When you hear the word “panda,” you probably imagine big, black-and-white bears that munch on bamboo. You’re picturing the giant panda, which can grow to be over 200 pounds. Red pandas are a lot smaller. They’re about the size of house cats. They also have long, bushy tails that add to their length. They live in rainy, high-altitude forests. Red pandas are common to the mountains of Nepal, Myanmar, and China. However, you can also visit them in zoos across the globe.

Would you believe the red panda isn’t even related to the giant panda? The two species aren’t even cousins. However, they do look a bit alike. They both have round faces and similar ears. Of course, they’re both also covered in fur. To picture what a red panda looks like, imagine a panda mixed with a raccoon. Okay, now give it red fur. That’s it!

Red pandas and giant pandas have another thing in common. They both love eating bamboo! However, red pandas also eat other foods. They enjoy fruit, roots, and eggs. Red pandas are also excellent climbers. Do you think you could climb a tree faster than a red panda? We doubt it! Red pandas use trees for shelter--they hide there from predators. Once up a tree, red pandas also sunbathe in its branches.

Climbing trees isn’t the only way red pandas escape predators. Their color also helps. Their fur is dark red, close to the color of rust. This allows them some camouflage in their natural environment. Red pandas blend in with reddish-brown moss common in their habitat. This helps them hide when they need to.

If you walked past a red panda in the wild, you might not notice! That’s because red pandas are normally silent. They don’t growl like giant pandas or hiss like raccoons. Sometimes, they make a sound called a “huff-quack.” This sound is like a mix between a duck quack and a pig snort. Normally, red pandas only huff-quack if they’re excited.

Like many other forest animals, the red panda is an at-risk species. Deforestation has caused its habitat to shrink in recent decades. As their natural space gets smaller, so does the number of red pandas in the wild.

Red pandas also face threats from hunters and poachers. People use their pelts to make hats and coats. Hunters catch them in traps accidentally while hunting for wild pigs and deer. These issues further decrease the red panda population.

Today, there may as few as 2,500 red pandas in the wild. Their numbers have decreased drastically over the last 50 years. Scientists hope the population can grow if we slow hunting and deforestation.

If you’re ever hiking through the mountains and hear a huff-quack, look around! You may come face-to-face with a red panda. But keep your distance! These furry creatures may look cute and cuddly, but it’s important to remember they’re wild animals.

Standards: NGSS.LS1.A, NGSS.LS1.C, NGSS.LS2.C, NGSS.LS4.C, NGSS.ESS3.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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