Temporal range: Oligocene–Recent
|Extant red panda distribution.|
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 (Procyonidae) because of morphological similarities of the head, colored ringed tail, and other morphological and ecological characteristics. Then, it was assigned to the bear family (Ursidae).
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 procynonid family.123 An in-depth mitochondrial DNA population analysis study3 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.4 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 Mephitidae + Mustelidae (skunks + weasels) and the Procyonidae (raccoons); but it is not a bear (Ursidae).5
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.6
- Family Ailuridae
- Genus Protursus (†)
- Protursus simpsoni
- ?Subfamily Amphictinae
- Subfamily Simocyoninae (†)
- Subfamily Ailurinae
- Genus Protursus (†)
- 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.
- 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 47608. PMID 8415740.
- Slattery JP & O'Brien, SJ (1995). "Molecular phylogeny of the red panda (Ailurus fulgens)". J. Hered. 86 (6): 413–422. PMID 8568209.
- Li, WH (1997). Molecular Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.
- "Whence the Red Panda". Retrieved 2007-02-25.
- Roberts, MS & Gittleman, JL (1984). "Ailurus fulgens". Mammalian Species (American Society of Mammalogists) 222 (222): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3503840. JSTOR 3503840.
- McKenna, MC & Bell SK (1997). Classification of Mammals Above the Species Level. Columbia University Press.
- 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.
- 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 1326154. PMID 16387860.
- Wallace, SC & Wang, X (2004). "Two new carnivores from an unusual late Tertiary forest biota in eastern North Americ". Nature 431 (7008): 556–559. doi:10.1038/nature02819. PMID 15457257.
- Davis, Davis D. (1964). “The Giant Panda: A Morphological Study of Evolutionary Mechanisms.“ Zoology Memoirs. Vol. 3:1-339.
- Decker D.M. and W.C. Wozencraft. (1991). “Phylogenetic Analysis of Recent Procyonid Genera.“ Journal of Mammalogy. Vol. 72 (1): 42-55.
- Flynn, J.J. and G.D. Wesley Hunt. (2005a). “Carnivora.“ in The Rise of Placental Mammals: Origin, Timing and Relationships of the Major Extant Clades, by D. Archibold and K. Rose. Baltimore. ISBN 0-8018-8022-X
- Flynn, John J., et al. (2005b). “Molecular phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): ASS-ASS the impact of increased sampling to on resolving enigmatic relationships.“ Systematic Biology. Vol. 54 (2):1-21. 
- Flynn, John J. Flynn, Michael A. Nedbal, J.W. Dragoo, and R.L. Honeycutt. (1998) "Whence the Red Panda?" Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Vol. 17, No. 2, November 2000, pp. 190–199. 
- Glatston, A.R. (1989). Talk Panda Biology. The Hague. ISBN 90-5103-026-6
- Glatston, A.R. (compiler) (1994). “The Red Panda, Olingos, Coatis, Raccoons, and their Relatives: Status survey and conservation action plan for Procyonids and Ailurids.”
- IUCN/SSC Mustelid, Viverrid, and Procyonid Specialist Group. IUCN/SSC, Gland, Switzerland.
- Gregory, W.K. (1936). “On the Phylogenetic Relationships of the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda) to other Arctoid Carnivores.“ American Museum Novitates. Vol. 878:1-29.
- Hu, J.C. (1990). “Proceedings of studies of the red panda.” Chinese Scientific Publishing, Beijing, China [in Chinese].
- Wilson, Don E. and DeeAnn M. Reeder. (2005). Mammal of Species of the World. Johns Hopkins University press. ISBN 0-8018-8221-4.