Scientists have uncovered fossils in Bulgaria belonging to Europe's last known panda species, which is linked to the modern-day giant panda. The found species was named Agriarctos nikolovi as an ode to the paleontologist who initially cataloged the fossils. Scientists believe the massive mammal roamed the forested wetlands of Bulgaria approximately six million years ago and is considered the last known and most evolved European giant panda to date. These ancient pandas originated in Europe but headed towards Asia, where they developed and developed over time and eventually became the modern giant black and white panda as we know it today. Here's a closer look...
In the 1970s, scientists uncovered fossilized teeth in Bulgaria which belonged to a mammal in close proximity to the modern giant panda. The two teeth fossils gave researchers evidence that the fossils are actually linked to modern giant pandas as we know them. However, they were not completely dependent on bamboo, like pandas are today. "Although not a direct ancestor of the modern genus of the giant panda, it is its close relative," said the Bulgarian National Museum of Natural History Professor Nikolai Spassov.
Based on the findings, researchers were able to determine the ancient panda followed a mostly vegetarian diet and lived in a mostly swampy region. Furthermore, these pandas did not eat bamboo the same way the black-and-white pandas we see today do. Their teeth indicate they most likely fed on softer plants as they did not appear very strong to crunch down on the wooden bamboo.
The last panda of Europe (Agriarctos nikolovi Jiangazuo & Spassov 2022 ) pic.twitter.com/Et1AteNZxo— Velizar Simeonovski (@VelizarSim) August 1, 2022
In addition, the pandas shared the land with large predators that most likely made competition pretty difficult, all leading to vegetarianism. "The likely competition with other species, especially carnivores and presumably other bears, explains the closer food specialization of giant pandas to vegetable food in humid forest conditions," said Professor Spassov. Agriarctos nikolovi's teeth showed they were defending themselves against predators but still relied on a vegetarian diet. However, scientists predict the animal eventually became extinct due to climate change as the Mediterranean basin dried up, which affected the surrounding environment.