Fossil discovery helps explain how the panda became a vegetarian

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Fossil discovery helps explain how panda became vegetarian

An adult panda can consume 45 kg of bamboo daily.

The discovery of fossils of a panda ancestor in China has helped researchers solve the mystery surrounding the mammal's 'sixth finger', allowing it to hold the bamboo stalks that make up the majority of its diet. /p>

These fossils, approximately six million years old, were discovered in Yunnan province in southwestern China. Among them is a particularly large wrist bone, called the “radial sesamoid”.

This is the oldest evidence for the existence of a sixth finger in the giant panda, which allows it to grasp and break thick stalks of bamboo, the researchers pointed out. in the latest edition of Scientific Reports.

This fossil belongs to a now extinct panda ancestor called “Ailurarctos”, who lived in China between six and eight million years ago.

An artistic recreation of the extinct panda Ailurarctos who lived around six million years ago near the city of Zhaotong in northern China's Yunnan province.

The giant panda is a rare case of a large carnivore […] turned herbivore, said Wang Xiaoming, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.

“The ''false thumb'' from Ailurarctos shows for the first time the chronology and likely stages in the evolution of bamboo feeding in pandas.

—Wang Xiaoming, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

If the existence of the false thumb was Already known to researchers for about a century, the fossil evidence for this bone sheds light on several long-unanswered questions, including how and when this extra toe, which does not exist in any other bear, evolved.< /p>

Millions of years ago, pandas swapped the omnivorous, protein-rich diet of their ancestors for the nutrient-poor, all-accessible bamboo. year in southern China.

They eat up to 15 hours a day and an adult can consume 45 kg of bamboo daily. Although their diet is primarily vegetarian, giant pandas have also been known to occasionally hunt small animals.

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