Fossilized teeth found in Bulgaria in the 1970s belong to a close relative of the modern giant panda.
A team of Bulgarian scientists has discovered that tooth fossils found in Bulgaria in the 1970s probably belonged to the last known and “most evolved” European giant panda species, reports EurekAlert.
Remains of teeth were unearthed from the Bulgarian National Museum of Natural History, initially found in this region of Eastern Europe in the late 1970s.
Paleontologist Ivan Nikolov cataloged an upper carnivorous tooth and tusk and added them to the museum’s repository of fossilized treasures when they were unearthed in northwestern Bulgaria. In his honor, the new, previously unknown species was named ‘Agriarctos nikolovi’.
“They only had an indistinctly handwritten label. habitat, location, and age. Then it also took me a long time to realize that this was an unknown giant panda fossil,” study leader Professor Nikolai Spassov shared details of the discovery.
‘Agriarctos nikolovi’ is not a direct ancestor of the modern giant pandas, but instead, their close relative specifies the professor on the discoveries published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Researchers date the find to the Miocene epoch. They believe that about 6 million years ago, representatives of this species moved through the wooded and marshy regions of Eastern Europe.
Fossils of the grass on which it feeds the modern panda are rare in the European fossil record, especially in the Bulgarian Late Miocene. And the tips of the teeth of the studied specimen do not seem strong enough to crush fibrous stems such as bamboo, according to the authors of the work.
Scientists estimate that the ancient panda ate softer vegetables.