Do Red Pandas Have a False Thumb? (Solved & Explained!)

Red pandas can hold things with their paws like they have an actual thumb. However, it’s hard to spot a thumb in their palms. 

This makes me wonder – Do red pandas have a false thumb?

Yes, they do! Red pandas have a false thumb. Their false thumb is their wrist bone (a sesamoid) that enlarged to form another extra digit on their paws.

The red pandas’ false thumb is not as large as a human’s thumb. However, it is flexible and can do many things like a thumb. 

These false thumbs help red pandas climb trees and eat bamboo more efficiently.

Now, you know red pandas have false thumbs. However, you might still want to know what a false thumb is.

What does it look like? Let’s find out!

What is a False Thumb?

A false thumb is a modified structure on the paws of animals that acts like a real thumb. 

It is opposable or semi-opposable to other true fingers of the animal just like a real thumb. This means it is separately on a side of an animal paw where no other finger is located.

A false thumb is also flexible like a finger and adapted to help an animal to grab, hold, and handle things.

Why Do Pandas Have an Extra Thumb?

Pandas have an extra digit on their paws due to genetic changes. It’s not a finger as you might think. It formed from the wrist bone on their paws.

These extra thumbs evolved on their paws to meet some of the primary needs of these creatures. It’s just like human thumbs that help us handle a lot of things daily.

These false thumbs help the red panda in the 3 primary ways:

  • Helps them grab narrow branches when climbing.
  • Helps support their body weight, for balance, while moving on tree branches.
  • Helps them to hold bamboo parts, like shoots and leaves, while eating.

Moreover, let’s discuss where you can find the red panda’s false thumb next.

Where Can You Find the Red Pandas False Thumb?

The red panda’s false thumb is located on the side of its front paws. It is opposed to the other real five fingers of the red pandas. 

Unlike the human thumbs, you won’t be able to spot the red panda’s false thumb from the back of their front paws. You won’t know there’s an extra digit on their paws.

This is because it’s small compared to a real thumb. It doesn’t fully extend out on the paws in a way you can see it.

The Panda Thumb Evolution

Both giant pandas and red pandas evolved an extra digit (false thumb) individually. 

An interesting thing about these two pandas is that they love to grab bamboo stalks or hold a bunch of leaves in their hand while eating.

It just makes eating bamboo easier and quick for them. As both pandas turned into herbivores, it brought about many changes. This also includes the development of false thumbs.

However, this bamboo diet is more of the giant pandas’ reason for developing a false thumb. They’re the only ones among their relatives with these extra digits. 

However, for the red pandas, it’s something else different.

Some researchers dug up fossil remains of a Simocyon batalleri, an extinct red panda relative. They studied their bones and found out that their front paws also had false thumbs.

However, Simocyons were not bamboo eaters like pandas. They were strictly carnivores. This means their false thumbs developed for something else other than eating bamboo.

It was the need to move better on trees. That’s right! 

Simocyons were arboreal creatures like the red pandas.

This means that their living relatives, red pandas, must have developed a false thumb primarily for arboreal locomotion (movement on trees). Feeding on bamboo was just another need for these extra thumbs.

These false thumbs gave both Simocyons and red pandas the ability to grab slim branches when climbing. This allows them to reach higher lever on trees despite how narrow the branches are.

There is also some evidence of thumb evolution in other mammals like koalas and possums. They have opposable thumb-like structures that help them move on trees too.

It’s just like these false thumbs form on the paws to help an animal in a primary activity that mostly involves grabbing, holding, and handling things.

Final Thoughts

In summary, red pandas have a false thumb. However, this false thumb is not a real thumb but can do many things like one. 

It’s located on the side of their paws where a normal thumb would be. 

In addition, these thumbs certainly evolved for reasons that are different for both pandas. For giant pandas, it was for handling bamboo while eating it. 

On the other hand, red pandas developed false thumbs mainly for climbing and moving in trees.

To know more body parts of red pandas, you should read – What are the Body Parts of a Red Panda?