Panda Updates – Monday, June 29
Giant pandas and red pandas are not closely related, with their most common ancestor living over 40 million years ago. So, why is it that two very different animals have similar adaptations to eat an almost exclusively bamboo diet? For many years, scientists were perplexed by the similarity. “Exactly how such evolutionary distant animals evolved such a similar lifestyle and body form has long been a mystery.” (Jane Qui, Nature Magazine 2017). Once scientists were able to sequence the genomes of both the giant and red panda and compare the two, they were able to identify some mutations to the genes involved in limb development to answer their questions. The article can be found at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-panda-rsquo-s-ldquo-thumb-rdquo-evolved-twice/.
As you see in the picture, a giant panda paw has five digits, a pad, and then the extra “pseudothumb” (located on the top right side of the paw in this picture). This “thumb” doesn’t move like yours and mine, but rather is a stationary extension of the wrist bone that, together with the adjacent bones of the paw, can grasp bamboo and give pandas amazing dexterity compared to other bear species.
Keeper II, Mammals
(photo by Danica W.)