(ORDO NEWS) — It is well known that giant pandas chew only bamboo and spend 15 hours every day eating up to 45 kg of this plant.
But their ancestors, like most bears, ate a much broader diet that included meat, and the exclusive diet of modern pandas was thought to be relatively recent.
However, a new study has found that pandas’ particular passion for bamboo may have started at least 6 million years ago.
This may have been due to the wide availability of this plant throughout the year. The new study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
To survive solely on nutrient-poor bamboo, modern pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have evolved a peculiar sixth toe, similar to the primate thumb, that allows them to easily grasp bamboo stems and strip leaves.
“Holding bamboo stems tightly to crush them into pieces is perhaps the most important adaptation to consuming massive amounts of bamboo,” said study author Xiaoming Wang, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.
The meager fossil record of pandas has shown that these bears have long evolved this enigmatic feature that has long baffled biologists.
Previous research has found evidence of this thumb-like structure in remains dating from about 100,000 to 150,000 years ago.
Wang and his team found much earlier evidence that pandas had an extra toe – and therefore an all-bamboo diet.
Scientists have found a fossil 6-7 million years old. Discovered in southwest China’s Yunnan province, this fossil belonged to a panda ancestor known as Ailurarctos.
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