Temporal range: Late Pliocene to Early Pleistocene
Ailuropoda microta is the earliest known ancestor of the giant panda. It measured 1 m (3 ft) in length; the modern giant panda grows to a size in excess of 1.5 m (5 ft). Wear patterns on its teeth suggest it lived on a diet of bamboo, the primary food of the giant panda. The first discovered skull of the animal in a south China limestone cave is estimated to be 2 million years old. The skull found is about half the size of a modern-day giant panda, but is anatomically very similar. This research suggests that the giant panda has evolved for more than three million years as a completely separate lineage from that of other bears.
- Jin, Changzhu; Russell L. Ciochon; Wei Dong; Robert M. Hunt Jr.; Jinyi Liu; Marc Jaeger & Qizhi Zhu (2007-06-26). "The first skull of the earliest giant panda" (pdf). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104 (26): 10932–10937. doi:10.1073/pnas.0704198104. PMC . PMID 17578912. Retrieved 2007-06-19.
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