Although it may sound like an oxymoron, a University of Iowa anthropologist and his colleagues report the first discovery of a skull from a "pygmy-sized" giant panda -- the earliest-known ancestor of the giant panda -- that lived in south China some two million years ago. The ancestor of today's giant panda really was a pygmy giant panda, says Russell Ciochon, UI professor of anthropology.
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Ciochon says that the ancient panda (formally known as Ailuropoda microta, or pygmy giant panda") was probably about three feet in length, compared to the modern giant panda, which averages in excess of five feet in length. Also, like it's modern counterpart, it lived on bamboo shoots, as indicated by wear patterns recorded on teeth and specialized muscle markings, indicating heavy chewing, on the skull.
The new find, made about 18 months ago in a south China karst (limestone) cave by Chinese researchers and co-authors Changzhu Jin and Jinyi Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, shows that the basic anatomy of the giant panda has remained
largely unchanged for millions of years.
Ciochon is a co-author of an article published in the June 18-22 online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).