Are Red Pandas Weasels? (4 Facts You Should Know!)

Weasels are one of the few creatures that share similar traits with red pandas. Come to think of it, could red pandas be weasels that evolved? 

No, red pandas are not weasels. They are two different animals that belong to different families. Red pandas belong to the family Ailuridae while weasels belong to the family Mustelidae.

Now you know red pandas are not weasels. Understand that this is more than just belonging to separate families. That’s right! 

Red pandas are different from weasels in a lot of ways.

Table of Contents

That being said, let’s discuss the differences between red pandas and weasels below.

Why are Red Pandas Different From Weasels?

The table below shows a summary of all the differences between red pandas and weasels.

DifferencesRed Pandas Weasels
Family AiluridaeMustelidae
SizeBody length: 20–26 in (50–56 cm).
Tail Length: 12-24 in. (30-50 cm).
Weight: 7–13 lbs. (3–6 kg).
Body length: 6–9 in (15–22 cm).
Tail Length: 4.5–6.5 in (13 cm).
Weight: 2–7 ounces (57–198 cm)
Appearance Reddish-brown fur. Bear-like bodies. Ringed tail. Solid and stocky bodies (bear-like)Brown fur with white or yellow underbellies. Long, slender bodies (pear-shaped). Long necks. Very short limbs. 
Limb Structure Two arms and two legs. 
Four legs (no arms). 
DigitsSix digits (including pseudo thumbs) on the front paws, and five digits on the back paws.Five digits only on each paw (i.e. both front and back paws).
ClawSemi-retractable clawsNon-retractable claws 
Paw PadsNone. Fur covers their paws instead. Yes. Protects all four paws. 
DietBamboo Meat
Native Home AsiaEurope, South America, North America, Asia, etc. 
Habitat TypeArboreal Terrestrial
Lifespan 8—10 years1—3 years


Red pandas and weasels don’t belong to the same family. This is the major difference between red pandas and weasels.

Red pandas are the only members of the Ailuridae family. This means no other animal, even a weasel, belongs to this family. 

Classification Red PandaWeasels
KingdomAnimalia Animalia
Phylum Chordata Chordata
OrderCarnivora Carnivora
Family Ailuridae Mustelidae 
Sub Family: Mustelinae
SpeciesAilurus fulgensMustela erminea

On the contrary, weasels are members of the large family Mustelidae. Aside from weasels, members of this family include:

This alone explains why red pandas are not in any way weasels.


Red pandas are giants compared to weasels. Their body length is about 20-26 in (50–56 cm) with a 12–24 in. (30–50 cm) tail. 

In addition, red pandas weigh about 7-13 lbs. (3-6 kg). Weasels, on the other hand, are 6–9 in. (20–22 cm) in length. 

Their tails are also smaller, about 4—6 cm long. What’s more, they weigh 2–7 ounces (57–198). 

This equally makes them much lighter creatures than red pandas.


A Red Panda's Beautiful Reddish-Brown Fur

When it comes to looks, red pandas and weasels still have differences. A red panda has reddish-brown fur that’s unique to them. 

In addition, their belly area and legs, in particular, are black. They also have beautiful facial markings. 

What’s more, red pandas have long, bushy tails that have ring patterns like that of raccoons.

A Weasel's Brown and White Fur

In contrast, a weasel normally has brown fur with a white or yellow underside (below their bodies). However, some species of weasels turn white all over during winter.

A Weasel Completely White During Winter

Their tails are long and bush with no ring patterns. Some species, particularly long-tailed and short-tailed weasels, have black-tipped tails.


Red Panda Eating Bamboo

A major reason why red pandas are different from weasels is their choice of food. Red pandas are bamboo eaters and this makes them primary herbivores.

Bamboo makes up 95% of the red pandas’ diet. They can’t do without bamboo and will not survive on any other food. Meat and other plant food make up the remaining 5% of their diet.

Weasels aren’t bamboo eaters. They are carnivores and survive on meat. Their meaty diet includes insects, birds, and other small creatures.

Native Home

Asia remains the only native home of red pandas, specifically the eastern Himalayas and southwest China. 

Hence, red pandas do not exist naturally on other continents. Weasels have great distribution and range across the world, unlike red pandas. 

They naturally exist in Asia, South America, Europe, and North America. Moreover, they are native to small parts of North Africa.


Red Panda Resting on a Tree Branch

Red pandas are arboreal forms of land animals. They live in trees almost all their lives.  shelter directly on top of tree branches or in tree hollows.

Weasel on Farmland

Weasels are terrestrial and live directly on land. They are not tree dwellers like red pandas. They make their home in different land habitats. 

This includes forests, open fields, grassland, woodlands, arctic tundra, and even roadsides, etc. What’s more, they shelter in burrows, rock piles, or under trees.

Limb Structure

A red panda has four limbs, which include two arms and legs. In contrast to this, all four limbs of a weasel are legs. 

And since weasels have forelegs for arms, it proves they are so much different from red pandas. Furthermore, you’ll find more differences when you compare specific parts of their limbs.

These parts are paw digits, claws, and other areas around their paws. See the differences below:


Red pandas have six digits on their front paws and five digits on their back paws. In addition, their front paw digits are six because of the false thumb they developed.

This means red pandas have five true digits plus a pseudo thumb on their front paws. Waesels, on the other hand, have five toes on each foot.


A Red Panda's Semi-Retractable Claws

Every digit on a red panda’s paws has semi-retractable claws. 

However, their false thumbs are an exception! These kinds of claws can partially withdraw when not in use.

On the other hand, weasels have non-retractable (fixed) claws on all of their toes. Their claws don’t draw back at all!

Paw Pads

One unique thing about red pandas is that their paws aren’t covered with paw pads. Fur covers their paws instead.

In contrast, weasels’ paws aren’t covered the same way. They have footpads with fur in between them.


There’s a big difference between the lifespans of both creatures. A red panda’s average lifespan in the wild is about 8–10 years. 

In addition, captive red pandas can live up to the age of 20. In contrast to this, weasels live for 1–3 years in the wild. But in captivity, they can live up to 8 years. 

This is still nothing close to a red panda’s lifespan. That being said, weasels aren’t just smaller, they have a shorter lifespan too.

What Do Red Pandas and Weasels Have in Common

Despite the differences, red pandas and weasels are similar in ways. And this is why some think they are the same creature in the first place.

See the similarities below:

  • These two creatures have whiskers.
  • Both creatures are native to Asia.
  • Red pandas are weasels and are natural carnivores.
  • They are both crepuscular animals—mostly active during dawn and dusk. 
  • Both creatures are solitary and mostly come together to mate.
  • They both have long bushy tails. 
  • Some weasels have markings on their face just as red pandas do. 
Raccoon - A Mustelid Closely Related to Red Pandas

Red pandas are closely related to raccoons. Scientists believe these two creatures shared a common ancestor many years ago.

But what makes them more related to red pandas is their similarities and traits. Red pandas are even nicknamed red raccoons! 

Some of these similarities include their bushy ringed tails and facial patterns, dentition, and more. 


A Ferret Coming Out of a Burrow - Close Relative of Weasels

These creatures are mostly related to ferrets, minks, skunks, and other similar members of the Mustelidae family.

And just like weasels, these Mustelids have slender bodies that are pear-like in shape. They are equally carnivores and have scent glands.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, red pandas are not weasels. Red pandas belong to the family Ailuridae and weasels, Mustelidae. 

Here is their main difference:

  • Red pandas have the shape of bears whereas weasels have slender tube-like bodies.
  • Red pandas are bamboo eaters whereas weasels are meat eaters.
  • Pseudo thumbs are present on red panda’s front paws but weasels don’t have them.
  • When you compare body length, tail length, and weight, red pandas are way bigger than weasels. 
  • A red panda lives longer than a weasel in the wild and in captivity.
  • Red pandas live naturally in Asia only. Weasels have a wider distribution across many continents. 

Remember, I mentioned that red pandas take the shape of bears—their stocky bodies. 

What’s more, red pandas have even been nicknamed bearcats! Is there a connection between the two creatures? 

Find out all you need to know about red pandas and bears in our article  – Are Red Pandas Related to Bears?