(ORDO NEWS) — A study by scientists from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (USA) showed when pandas learned to eat bamboo.
According to his results, this happened at least six million years ago, according to Scientific Reports.
Reconstructing the evolution of pandas is extremely difficult due to the almost complete absence of fossils.
But during excavations in Yunnan province, paleontologists managed to find the bones of an ancient creature. It has been identified as the earliest ancestor of modern giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
The animal lived on Earth 6-7 million years ago. Examining the skeleton, paleontologists paid attention to the structure of the paw.
There was a so-called false thumb, which helps the pandas hold the bamboo stalks.
It is known that pandas, although they belong to the family of predators (carnivores), eat only plant foods – mainly bamboo.
In the course of evolution, their body adapted to such a diet. In particular, a “finger” appeared on the paw, allowing it to grab the stem.
This process is not a real finger. It is actually an elongated part of the carpal bone. Until recently, scientists did not know when pandas got this organ.
A new study has shown that this happened very early. The ancestor of pandas, 6-7 million years old, had a false “finger”.
This proves that already at that time Ailuropoda switched to a diet of bamboo, giving up meat and berries. In addition, his “finger” turned out to be even longer than that of modern individuals.
According to the theory of scientists, the “finger” became shorter so that it would be more convenient for pandas to walk, carrying their significant weight.
“Evolving from a carnivorous ancestor to becoming pure bamboo consumers, pandas had to overcome many obstacles.
The opposable thumb from the carpal bone is probably the most surprising transformation,” said author Professor Xiaoming Wang.
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