The last panda in Europe lived in the Iberian Peninsula, according to Spanish paleontologists who have analyzed fossils from the Las Casiones site (Teruel) where they have discovered the presence of the genus Indarctos, related to the current giant panda in China, about 6 million years ago. years.
An investigation carried out in 2012 already located the origin of the giant panda lineage in present-day Spain between 11 and 12 million years ago from different fossils excavated at the Abocador de Can Mata de Els Hostalets de Pierola site (Barcelona) and in Nombrevilla-2 in Daroca (Zaragoza).
They were the oldest remains of this group, which is currently only represented in Asia and whose most emblematic species is the Chinese giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, a species that would have evolved from more basal forms, such as those found in Spanish deposits. .
Now, a work led by the paleontologist of the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) Juan Abella, together with the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC), the universities of Cape Town and Valencia and the Paleontological Foundation of Teruel- Dinópolis, has described remains of the postcranial skeleton and dentition of the Indarctos punjabiensis species in Las Casiones (Teruel) with an antiquity of 6.23 million years.
The finding, published in the magazine “Geodiversitas” reveals that the last panda in Europe lived on the Iberian Peninsula.
“The cranial, mandibular and dental characteristics of these fossils allow us to classify them within the subfamily of ailuropodins, a group to which the current giant panda belongs,” said Abella.
According to genetic methods, the ailuropodins would have separated from the other current bear subfamilies during the Lower Miocene, about 20 million years ago.
“These bears were predominant in carnivore communities during most of the Upper Miocene in the Iberian Peninsula,” according to Abella, who points out that at that time there were at least three different species of bear in the region that is now Spain.
In general, the skeleton of Indarctos indicates that it would be an animal with a basically omnivorous diet, although with a large amount of plant component.
The young could climb trees quite easily to escape possible dangers while the largest specimens could face any attack thanks to their large size and powerful claws, the paleontologist has indicated.
According to the researcher, more than 6 million years ago, Las Casiones (9 kilometers north of the city of Teruel) was a lake area where these bears lived accompanied by a very diverse fauna of other large mammals that included hippos, rhinos or proboscidia. , relatives of current elephants, as well as hyenas and other carnivores now extinct.
For Abella, it is a good example of the fauna prior to the Messinian salt crisis, which led to the almost total drying out of the Mediterranean.