The last European pandas were large ” wimps” who couldn't even eat bamboo.
Even 40 years ago, an upper canine and an upper molar of an unknown animal were discovered on the territory of Bulgaria. These teeth were kept in the Bulgarian National Museum of Natural History in Sofia, and so far no one has studied them. A new study has shown that these teeth belong to a new species of pandas that lived in southern Europe 6 million years ago and these animals were the last pandas in the region, according to Live Science.
An analysis of the teeth of an unknown ancient animal, which was carried out Bulgarian scientists showed that they belonged to a new species of pandas, called Agriarctos nikolovi. Scientists believe that these ancient pandas were not direct ancestors, but only close relatives of the modern giant panda.
The study found that this panda's teeth are unlike any other ancient pandas that lived in Europe. Most species of European pandas had smaller teeth than modern giant pandas, meaning they were smaller than their current relatives. But pandas of the species Agriarctos nikolovi had much larger teeth, which means that they were the same size or slightly larger than modern giant pandas.
According to paleontologist Nikolai Spasov, all fossilized remains ancient European pandas date back to more than 10 million years ago. And the teeth of the new panda are 6 million years old. This means that these animals were probably the very last pandas in Europe.
According to Spasov, representatives of the species Agriarctos nikolovi lived in a completely different habitat than modern giant pandas. The region where the ancient panda's teeth were found was a swampy forest millions of years ago.
“We believe that these pandas ate a more varied diet than their current relatives. These were various soft plants, and not just bamboo, as they are now,” says Spasov.
Modern pandas can eat meat but prefer plants. As for the species Agriarctos nikolovi, these pandas had weaker teeth than modern giant pandas. This means that they could not eat not only bones and meat, but could not even chew bamboo.
Scientists believe that the last pandas in Europe probably disappeared due to climate change, which affected their habitat and habitual diet.
“At the end of the Miocene (23 – 5.3 million years ago), climate change occurred in southern Europe. The life of these pandas could be affected by an event known as the Messinian salinity crisis. 6 million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea almost completely dried up, the forests changed, it became much hotter here and the pandas most likely could not provide themselves with enough food,” says Spasov.
Although scientists consider European pandas to be relatives of modern “bamboo bears”, they do not know exactly how animals from Europeans are related to their own kind from Asia. It is still not clear where the pandas originally appeared – in Europe or Asia. According to Spasov, the theory about the European origin of pandas is more likely, since the oldest fossils of these bears were found in Europe, and only then the pandas emigrated to Asia. But there is no definitive answer to this riddle yet.
As Focus already wrote, scientists recently found out when pandas got an unusual sixth toe on their front paws and why these animals need it at all.