Europe’s Giant Panda

Within the cupboards and stores of museums lurk thousands of poorly catalogued items. It’s a treasure trove of artefacts for researchers to delve into.

Reconstruction of A. nikolovi sp. nov. from Bulgaria. Artwork by Velizar Simeonovski, Chicago. Image credit: © Velizar Simeonovski, Chicago

Two fossils of teeth discovered in the Bulgarian National Museum of Natural History are believed to have belonged to a giant panda like animal which once roamed in the forested wetlands of Europe.

The upper carnassial tooth, and an upper canine, were originally catalogued by paleontologist Ivan Nikolov, who added them to the museum’s trove of fossilized treasures when they were unearthed in northwestern Bulgaria in the 1970s.

Professor Nikolai Spassov, of the museum and who has rediscovered the fossils explained:

“Although not a direct ancestor of the modern genus of the giant panda, it is its close relative.

“This discovery shows how little we still know about ancient nature and demonstrates also that historic discoveries in paleontology can lead to unexpected results, even today.”

The fossil teeth had a vague hand written label on them and Professor Spassov took years to identify where the site was that the fossils had come from.

Professor Spassov continued:

“It also took me a long time to realize that this was an unknown fossil giant panda.”

This new species is named Agriarctos nikolovi in his honor.

“Giant pandas are a very specialized group of bears.

“Even if A. niklovi was not as specialized in habitats and food as the modern giant panda, fossil pandas were specialized enough and their evolution was related to humid, wooded habitats.

“It is likely that climate change at the end of the Miocene in southern Europe, leading to aridification, had an adverse effect on the existence of the last European panda.”

Click on this link to access the paper: A late Turolian giant panda from Bulgaria and the early evolution and dispersal of the panda lineage

Categories: Science

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