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Pygmy panda discovered in China

Pygmy panda discovered in China

Pygmy panda discovered in China
June 18, 2007

Researchers have discovered an extinct pygmy panda in what were once the tropical forests of China.

Writing in the June 18 early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of scientists describe the creature as being very similar to the living panda, except half its size.

Russell Ciochon, a professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa and co-author of the paper, says that the ancient panda (Ailuropoda microta or “pygmy giant panda”) was about three feet (1 m) in length and fed on bamboo shoots, like modern panda.

Giant Panda with son at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

“Pandas are very unique bears — the only bear species that is known to exist wholly on a vegetarian diet,” said Ciochon. “The evolution of this unique dietary specialization probably took millions of years to refine. Our new discovery shows the great time depth of this unique bamboo-eating specialization in pandas. Thus, pandas have been ‘uniquely pandas’ for many millions of years.”

The pygmy panda lived in lowland tropical bamboo forests, while the present-day giant panda is found in mountainous upland bamboo forests, partly due to its extermination by humans in less remote areas.

The fossilized skull was uncovered in a karst (limestone) cave in southern China in 2005 by Changzhu Jin and Jinyi Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Changzhu Jin, Russell L. Ciochon, Wei Dong, Robert M. Hunt, Jr., Jinyi Liu, Marc Jaeger, and Qizhi Zhu (2007). The first skull of the earliest giant panda. PNAS June 26, 2007 vol. 104 no. 26 10933—10937

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