Are Red Pandas Monkeys? (Similarities & Differences)


Red pandas love trees a lot and climb them so well. But this is mostly a thing for monkeys. And if you feel red pandas are monkeys, here’s what you need to know… 

No, red pandas are not monkeys. They belong to the family Ailuridae and are the only living members. 

On the other hand, Monkeys belong to the monkey family Cercopithecidae; They are part of a group known as primates. 

Now, why do I say red pandas are different from monkeys? Mind you, this isn’t just based on the fact that they both belong to separate families alone. 

Aside from this reason, red pandas and monkeys are different in some other aspects.

Keep reading as we discuss these differences in detail.

Table of Contents

Why Are Red Pandas Different From Monkeys?

Here’s a summary of all these differences we’ll be discussing below:

DifferencesRed PandasMonkeys
Family AiluridaeCercopithecidae
Appearance Reddish brown fur. Bear-like build. Bushy ringed tail. No specific fur color or pattern. Long, slender body.
DietHerbivorous (Bamboo)Omnivorous – Plants and meat
SoundGrowl, bark, huff quack, hoot, gruntScreech, coo, howl, hoot
Native Home Asia only Asia, America, Africa. 
Digits Five digits on all front paws with false thumbs. Five digits on back paws only. Five fingers and five toes. 
Claws Semi-retractable Fixed nails/ claws
Social Behavior Solitary Live in groups (Troops)

Family

Red Pandas - The Only Surviving Members of the Ailuridae Family

Red pandas belong to the unique mammalian family, Ailuridae. And they are the only living members of this family. 

Monkeys, on the other hand, belong to the large mammalian family Cercopithecidae. What’s more, they are part of the popular animal group, “primates.”

And since red pandas are not primates or members of the money family, then they are not monkeys. 

Diet

A Cute Red Panda Eating Bamboo

A red panda’s diet is mostly bamboo, about 95%. This makes them primary herbivores despite being natural carnivores.

Bamboo is a very important food for red pandas’ survival. They can’t survive on any other food alone.

In addition, the remaining 5% of their diet includes meat and other plant food. In contrast to this, monkeys are omnivores. 

A Monkey Eating

They can survive on both plants and meat. Their plant diet includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, leaves, and flowers. 

In addition to this, they eat mostly insects as meat. Interestingly, many monkeys also eat bamboo as part of their plant diet. 

Still, they don’t depend on it for survival compared to red pandas.

Appearance

Red pandas look nothing like monkeys. They have different physical features which proves they are not the same animals. 

See these features below:

Fur Color

A red panda has a unique reddish-brown fur color with white markings on their faces. 

Their legs and bellies particularly are black or dark brown. This is a standard look of a red panda.

Monkeys don’t look like red pandas. No monkey species have the same fur color and pattern as the red panda.

They, however, come in different colors and patterns depending on the species.

Body Shape

Red pandas have a body shape that’s similar to bears – sturdy and stocky! Their arms are shorter than their legs. 

A monkey’s body shape is different. They have long, slender bodies. 

In addition, the length of their limbs is the other way around. They have shorter legs and longer arms instead.

Tails

Red pandas have bushy tails like those of foxes and raccoons. What’s more, their tails have beautiful ringed patterns. 

And they have long, but bushy tails with beautiful ring patterns. Monkeys don’t have ringed tails like red pandas. It’s a rare feature in primates. 

However, there’s one primate with this feature. And that’s the ringed-tail lemur. 

Interestingly, lemurs are much more similar to red pandas compared to monkeys and other primates.

CHECK OUT – ARE RED PANDAS RELATED TO LEMURS?

Sound

A red panda doesn’t sound like a monkey. Both creatures make different sounds. Funny enough, they can’t understand each other. 

Red pandas growl, bark, huff quack, and grunt. Monkeys screech, coo, howl, hoot, etc. 

Since red pandas and monkeys speak different languages, they certainly aren’t the same creatures.

Digits

A Monkey's Five Grasping Fingers

Another difference between red pandas and monkeys is their digits. 

Red pandas have paws with digits on them. Their front paws have six digits each. This includes five true digits and a false thumb

This false or pseudo thumb is one of the red pandas’ physical adaptations they developed as they evolved.

It acts like a thumb, but it’s just an elongated wrist bone (sesamoid). Furthermore, red pandas have just five digits each on their back paws.

In contrast to this, monkeys do not have paws. They have hands and feet instead!

And each hand and foot has five digits each – fingers and toes! What’s more, monkeys’ thumbs are real and not false like that of red pandas. 

Above all, since red pandas have paws and not hands, they’re so much different from monkeys.

Claws

A basic feature of a red panda is its semi-retractable claw. They have claws on each digit that retracts, but not completely. 

This is a feature that monkeys don’t have. Monkeys mostly have nails for claws, just like that of humans. 

A Monkey's Nail

Additionally, their nails are fixed and don’t retract at all. This makes a red panda a completely different animal from a monkey.

Native Home/ Range

Red pandas’ have a very small range around the world. These unique creatures are native to Asia only. 

Particularly, their natural homes are in the eastern Himalayas and Southwest China. This equally means that red pandas don’t live freely in the wild outside Asia. 

This is not the same with monkeys. Unlike red pandas, you’ll find them living freely in the wild on many continents. 

They have a wide distribution that includes Asia, the Americas, and Africa.

Social Behaviors

A Group of Monkeys living Together

One interesting thing about the unique red panda is its solitary behavior. This means that red pandas live alone

They don’t live as a family or any group whatsoever. And the only time you’ll see red pandas together is during breeding seasons. 

That’s right! Males will stay with females to mate with them. Additionally, mother red pandas will live with their cubs till they fully raise them. 

That being said, this is not the same with monkeys. They don’t live solitary lives as red pandas do. 

Monkeys live in groups called troops, and they do a lot together.

What Do Red Pandas and Monkeys Have in Common?

Red pandas and monkeys are mammals. They’re covered with fur and give birth to offspring alive.

  • Red pandas and monkeys are arboreal creatures. They both live on trees! 
  • These two are mammals—having fur, being warm-blooded, giving birth to offspring alive, etc. 
  • Both creatures have digits that can grab stuff.
  • They are both skilled climbers. They love height!
  • Red pandas and monkeys have opposable thumbs. 
  • Bamboo is a common food for both red pandas and monkeys. 
  • A red panda and monkey can stand on two legs. 
  • Both red pandas and monkeys use their long tails for balance.
A Raccoon - Ring-Tailed Creature Closely Related to Red Pandas

Red pandas are closely related to raccoons, despite having no true living relatives of the Ailuridae family. 

However, red pandas and raccoons share a common ancestor. Additionally, red pandas look so much more like a raccoon than any other creature. 

They have a lot in common. Don’t be surprised if anyone calls them red raccoons!

Lemurs – Close Relatives of Monkeys

Monkeys are closely related to lemurs, apes, and other primates including humans. Though they may all belong to different families, they have a lot in common as primates. 

This includes their highly-developed brains, long limbs, and grasping hands and feet.

Recap:

In summary, red pandas are not monkeys. These two creatures belong to separate families.

Here are other differences between the two creatures:

  • Red pandas are bear-like in shape while monkeys have slender bodies.
  • A red panda has unique reddish-brown and black fur, but a monkey can appear in different fur colors.
  • Red pandas and monkeys do not sound alike.
  • Asia is the only native home of red pandas whereas monkeys are native to different continents worldwide.
  • A red panda has a false thumb on their paws but monkeys have real thumbs
  • Red pandas have semi-retractable claws while monkeys have fixed nails.

Do you know red pandas look so much like raccoons than any other animal? This is because of the striking similarities they both share.

See the similarities between red pandas and raccoons in our article, “Are Red Pandas and Raccoons Related?

Sources:

Cercopithecidae – Old World Monkeys