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Pandas evolved their most perplexing feature at least 6 million years ago

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However their ancestors, like most bears, ate a a lot wider food plan that included meat, and it was thought that fashionable pandas’ unique food plan developed comparatively just lately. Nevertheless, a brand new examine finds that pandas’ specific ardour for bamboo could have originated no less than 6 million years in the past — probably because of the plant’s huge, year-round availability.

To outlive solely on low-nutrient bamboo, fashionable pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have developed a peculiar sixth finger, a thumb of types that enables them to simply grasp bamboo stalks and strip the leaves.

“Tightly holding bamboo stems with the intention to crush them into chew sizes is probably probably the most essential adaptation to consuming a prodigious amount of bamboo,” mentioned examine writer Xiaoming Wang, curator of vertebrate paleontology on the Pure Historical past Museum of Los Angeles County, in a press release.

Wang and his group recognized a lot earlier proof of pandas having an additional finger — and thus an all-bamboo food plan — within the type of a fossilized digit relationship again 6 to 7 million years. The fossil, unearthed in Yunnan Province in southwest China, belonged to a panda ancestor often known as Ailurarctos.

Pictured is an artist's reconstruction of the giant panda ancestor Ailurarctos from the Shuitangba fossil site in Yunnan, China.

The brand new analysis printed Thursday within the journal Scientific Reviews.

Whereas the large panda’s sixth digit just isn’t as elegant or dexterous as human thumbs, the persistence of this “distinctive morphology” over hundreds of thousands of years steered that it performs an important operate for survival, the examine famous.

Evolutionary compromise

However what was notably puzzling to the scientists concerned within the examine was that this fossilized construction was longer than these of recent big pandas, which have a shorter, hooked sixth finger.

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Wang and his colleagues suppose fashionable pandas’ shorter sixth digit is an evolutionary compromise between the necessity to manipulate bamboo and the necessity to stroll and carry their hefty our bodies.

“5 to 6 million years needs to be sufficient time for the panda to develop longer false thumbs, however it appears that evidently the evolutionary strain of needing to journey and bear its weight saved the ‘thumb’ brief — sturdy sufficient to be helpful with out being large enough to get in the best way,” mentioned examine coauthor Denise Su, an affiliate professor on the College of Human Evolution and Social Change and analysis scientist on the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State College, in a press release.