Despite being solitary animals as adults, pandas are able to communicate through scent marks and calls. Red pandas even have special glands between their foot pads that help them mark their territory with a liquid that other pandas can smell through. Smithsonian National Zoo recently shared a video on Instagram to celebrate Red Panda Day, featuring one of these curious creatures while it was sniffing around a log of wood.
A study on scent communication behaviors found that the frequency of marking varied throughout the year. In particular, there were three peaks in behavior: October, December and March. These peaks corresponded with the times of the year when giant pandas most often hunt and breed.
When a male panda marks his odor, it can convey a wealth of information to other bears: his gender, height, reproductive status and more. Males may also mark their odor as high as possible to show others they are taller than other males. During mating season, females advertise their readiness to breed by scent marking, and males that recognize her mark are more likely to pursue her.
When a panda wants to investigate a new scent mark, it uses its tongue to collect a sample and deliver it to a gland inside its mouth. The gland interprets the odor and lets the animal know whether it is an ally or an intruder. The panda then either carries on or retreats from the area. In the wild, the coloration of a panda’s fur can help it blend in with its habitat, but it is important for pandas to maintain their distinct odor as they are hunting and traveling long distances in search of food.