A prehistoric relative of the giant panda has been discovered in Spain, a new study saysâ€”which suggests that the charismatic Chinese bears might have originated in Europe.
The 11-million-year-old species, dubbed Agriarctos beatrix, lived in humid forests in what’s now Spain, according to scientists who recently found the animal’s fossil teeth near the city of Zaragoza (map).
The teeth give paleontologists a lot of information about a species, according to study leader Juan Abella, a paleobiologist at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain.
“For example, all bear [teeth] have a series of characters that tell us that they are bears. And the same thing happens with dogs, cats, deer, or other vertebrate groups,” Abella said via email.
After analyzing the fossil teeth, he added, the researchers “concluded that they belong to the bear family, and more precisely to the giant panda’s subfamily.”
And the subfamily resemblance may have been strikingâ€”Abella and colleagues speculate that the bear had panda-like patterns, because most existing species in the family also have the characteristic dark and white patches.