Oldest panda relative may have been Spanish
The giant panda as we know it may have had relatives in Spain millions of years ago.
November 14th, 2012
05:06 PM ET

Oldest panda relative may have been Spanish

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Get ready for some 12-million-year-old "panda-monium!"

Spanish researchers have discovered fossils they say could be from the oldest identified relative of the giant panda. The specimens are from a species the scientists are calling Kretzoiarctos beatrix, and they are in the range of 11.5 million to 12.5 million years old, according to lead study author Juan Abella, at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Spain.

These fossils, described in the journal PLOS ONE, were found in northeast Spain, and come from two adult individuals. One set, which Abella and colleagues described last year in the journal Estudios Geológico, consists of two teeth. The other includes a broken mandible and incomplete upper carnassial (large tooth).

This new study takes into account the both sets of fossils, and compares them with more species, Abella said. The additional fossils allowed the scientists to come up with the genus Kretzoiarctos beatrix.

The oldest fossils in the panda lineage that have been found in China are significantly younger - they are thought to be between 7.2 and 8.2 million years old, said Abella.

However, the scientists are not claiming to know that pandas evolved in Spain and then migrated to China. There is not enough information to make this statement.

So, don't go around calling this the missing panda link, Abella said. It's certainly possible that there are other older panda relative fossils out there waiting to be found. Moreover, we don't know for sure what the panda family tree looked like.

"That fossil record is very fragmentary and so it is difficult to state 100% sure that one fossil species was the direct ancestor of an extant one," Abella said in an e-mail.

When this proto-panda roamed Spain, the climate was more humid and warm, Abella said. That means there fruits and plants were in greater abundance, which may have enabled the ancient panda to incorporate more plants in its diet.

Scientists aren't sure whether bamboo was present in their habitat at that time, but there may have been similar plants associated with humid climates, Abella said.

There are obviously still a lot of unknowns about the prehistoric pandas these fossils potentially came from. More specimens from the same place would be needed to determine the sex of the creatures and exactly how big they were, Abella said.

"The discovery is very important to understand the origin of the lineage that leads to the giant panda millions of years after," Abella said. "It may also help scientists to understand the adaptations in both the skull and jaw, that helps, this unique bear, to be able to feed on hard bamboo stems."

Bears have been living in the Iberian Peninsula for at least the last 11.5 million years, Abella said. There are still brown bears living in the mountains in the north of Spain.

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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. w l jones

    Human been traveling all over Earth and trading every thing from monkey to panda for over two billion yearss

    November 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  2. Shayes

    Interesting. I got a laugh at everyone's comments. This is the only news site that is unblocked from the schools filter system... shhhh don't tell. LOL

    November 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  3. Paco

    Looks like a poop pancake in my underwear...

    November 22, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  4. zlop

    Global Weird Climate Change killed off the European Panda
    And now will force the Ice Bear towards the Equator.
    Pay your Carbon Taxes !

    November 21, 2012 at 2:40 am |
  5. brain


    November 19, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  6. Spain

    12 million years ago, where is Spain? where is China? where is the World?

    November 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  7. ze mariah

    where's the print bottom?

    November 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  8. Phredd

    since when do animals have nationalities?!?

    November 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Steve Jobs sent our jobs

      Ask China, they selfishly won't let anyone breed Pandas without their ownership because its their "national" symbol.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:17 am |
      • Mickey1313

        That's because from top to bottom, the chinese government are POS.

        November 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
      • Lisa

        thats no big deal. im a Cinese, and my parents are farmers. they can use the land but can never own it,it owned by the government. and thats right, panda is so stupid even they managed to make two babies, they probably will sit on one baby and even dont know it just keep eating bamble everyday.

        November 27, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  9. JZG

    While this is a nice discovery, I'd wait for a little more evidence. Teeth are fine, but maybe a skull or a leg?

    November 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  10. James

    Pandas...... these stupid animals can't mate for a dam to save their species... you put to pandas in a room they just stair at each other. stupid things deserve to get extinct...

    November 15, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Conor

      People on the internet do the same "dam" thing...

      November 15, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • Shawn


        November 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
      • michelle


        November 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "you put to pandas in a room they just stair at each other. stupid things deserve to get extinct..."

      Funny, you call an animal stupid yet cannot structure an english sentence properly. And it would be "two" (number) not "to"....r3tard

      November 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • saaaaaaaaaaaa

      stare not stair

      November 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Matt

      Your post makes me visualize two pandas sitting in a creek, blocking it up, all the while throwing stairs at each other.

      November 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
      • moose

        lol now I have that image in my head, but I read "stairs" as "stars", as in throwing stars. Kung Fu Panda $h!t!!

        November 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      They are very sensitive to sound, so the noise of the modern world bothers them alot. Also apparently females are only fertile for one fast a month.

      November 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  11. Brian

    What the evidence is, is that they have discovered a panda relative in what is now Spain. Exactly where it fits into the panda family tree is unknown. If pandas evolved in Eurasis and one group migrated west into europe and another east into asia or any other scenario is still undetermined.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  12. Billie

    I always appreciate when articles about new species explain what the new scientific name means – and I would have appreciated it here. And guess what? It's not too late to add it.

    November 15, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • AJ

      Etymology: Dedicated to the paleontologist Miklós Kretzoi and from the Greek ‘arctos’ (bear).

      No info on the species epithet, but beatrix looks like another person's name.

      November 15, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
      • AJ

        Yes, another name: To Beatriz Azanza for her contribution to the knowledge of the fossil mammals of the Neogene of Aragón region.

        November 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Freon

    It probably ate cilantro instead of bamboo.

    November 15, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Mighty7

      That would in Mexico. Garlic is the main flavoruring in Spain.

      November 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
      • Shawn

        cilantro aka... Chinese parsley

        November 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  14. Spencer

    It may have been carbon dated to determine the age.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  15. ArthurP


    Use Google, Google is your friend....... just remember don't put religious words or phrases in your search terms.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  16. Larry

    It is an utter waste of time to perform carbon dating to determine a fossil's age. All you have to do is ask some right-wing fanatic evangelical how old it is. The answer will always be less than 5,000 years.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Dennis

      Technically, You can't carbon date a fossil. carbon dating is for organic material not fossils.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
      • AJ

        You can carbon date a fossil if there is original carbon remaining and if the fossil is not beyond the range of carbon isotope half-life precision. This one is, so other radiometric dates are surrounding rock have established the age.

        November 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • bert

      not right wing, but a fanatic for the truth...

      it's less than 6,000 years old..always !

      November 15, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • VladT

      What's important is Larry feels better now that he got to insult people who are extremely religous. He can now go back to his blog where he complains about how by not eating organic carrots we are adding to Rabbit HIV infection proliferation, or whatever

      November 23, 2012 at 3:55 am |
  17. ben

    you don't figure anything out ashley. you start with the premise that the bible is the word of god because it says so, and you follow that premise to its conclusion, because the bible says so. makes sense, right?

    November 14, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  18. Ashley

    i dont understand how that little bit of information would lead you to think that the oldest panda was spanish. I just dont understand how you figure something like that out. so my question is, how do you figure this out? also how do you figure out how old the fossil may be.

    November 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Larry

      Genius, ever hear of science? How about carbon dating? Most of the scientific community actual believes in that mumbo jumbo. Further, when something is found in Spain, it is a safe deduction to assume it's Spanish.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Brandon

      The Scientists used a time machine and went back to the future and asked the Panda relative what language he speaks. The Panda kin replied, "Hablo Espanol, senor"

      November 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • larocca89

      Well gentlemen, we of the spanish inquisition can safely say that Ashley is no heretic. Her lack of science belief or knowledge of it spares her from our fiery judgement. Now for this 12 million year old proto-panda. Can it solve simple arithmatic? If so it's clearly a witch and must be burned.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • AJ


      November 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm |


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