Pandas love bamboo, however they won’t have acquired a style for this bitter, nutty-flavored plant till lately. Paleontologists found the very fact whereas learning a newly described relative to large pandas, named Agriarctos nikolovi, which frolicked in Europe a few million years in the past and sported a smaller set of enamel than their trendy household. The findings, revealed on July 31 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, recommend the panda species was possible the final to reside in Europe.
The fossil enamel have been first unearthed in the late Nineteen Seventies in northwestern Bulgaria in coal deposits that blackened the chompers. Because the Bulgarian National Museum of National History didn’t clearly checklist the specimens in their catalog of fossilized treasures, they remained untouched in storage till an unintentional discovery by workers 40 years later.
“They had only one label written vaguely by hand,” Nikolai Spassov, a paleontologist and museum professor at Sofia University in California, defined in a press release. “It took me many years to figure out what the locality was and what its age was. Then it also took me a long time to realize that this was an unknown fossil giant panda.”
The higher canine and higher molar of the dental pattern hint again to a species intently associated to as we speak’s large pandas, which solely reside in southwest China. The ursids roamed the forested and swampy areas of Europe almost 6 million years in the past in the Miocene epoch. A. nikolovi had smaller enamel than present-day pandas, however greater ones than different panda species of that point interval. The research authors hypothesize that by means of evolution, the mammals’ canines and molars possible grew to guard them from predators. Bigger enamel additionally require a greater mouth, suggesting these pandas have been comparable in dimension or simply barely smaller to present-day pandas.
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While this isn’t the primary prehistoric panda discovered in Europe, the vast majority of the opposite specimens date again to round 10 million years in the past. Given that the fossilized enamel on the Bulgarian National Museum of National History are more moderen, it’s possible they belonged to the final panda species on the European continent. Though they’re intently associated, A. nikolovi is extra of a cousin than a direct descendent of large pandas. Previous analysis suggests the oldest direct descendent of the giant panda is a species discovered in Spain referred to as the Kretzoiarctos beatrix. It existed no less than 11.6 million years in the past.
Of additional be aware, A. nikolovi was vegetarian, although bamboo was most likely not a part of its diet. Today’s large pandas have sturdy jaws and huge, flat enamel to assist grind up the leaves, stem, and stalks of the sturdy plant. Bamboo makes up 99 p.c of a large panda’s diet: Adults can eat 26 to 83 pounds of it every single day. But A. nikolovi’s smaller enamel point out it most likely didn’t have the power to chew and mash up the plant’s powerful and inedible stalks, and opted for softer greens for nourishment as an alternative.
“The likely competition with other species, especially carnivores and presumably other bears, explains the closer food specialization of [modern] giant pandas to vegetable food in humid forest conditions,” Spassov stated in the press launch.
So how did A. nikolovi go extinct? Climate change, and particularly the drying up of the Mediterranean basin, might need affected the whole ecosystem of crops the mammals thrived on. While this concept remains to be underneath investigation, paleontologists speculate that comparable environmental circumstances might have propelled different intently associated panda species like Kretzoiarctos beatrix to maneuver out of Europe and into Asia 8 million years in the past. From there, historical pandas would evolve into the Ailuropoda, making up the playful bamboo lovers we all know as we speak.