An ancient family of giant panda that were predators and were distinguished by long limbs and exceptional sprinting prowess has been found by a team of Chinese and American paleontologists.
The only bear left in its own genus and species is the herbivorous giant panda, yet millions of years ago it belonged to a large family.
A new genus of an extinct relative of the giant panda has been discovered by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Huracan is the name of the new genus that has been identified based on a sizable amount of fossil material discovered in both eastern Asia and North America.
According to a research recently published in the journal American Museum Novitates, huracan is thought to have evolved during the late Miocene epoch, which lasted from around 11.6 to 5.3 million years ago. The first remains of this species were found in the Linxia Basin in China’s Gansu Province.
Huracan had good running ability, but its forelimbs were not as robust or flexible as those of other bear species, according to the limb bones. This shows that it probably preyed on weaker species like sheep or camels rather than stronger ones like rhinoceroses or elephants.
According to the reports of China.org.cn, the new species shares traits with Agriotherium and Indarctos, two extinct enormous bears whose connection to one another in evolutionary terms was previously unknown. The latest research demonstrated that early Indarctos or another bear that resembled Indarctos, most likely in eastern Asia, gave rise to the common ancestor of Huracan and Agriotherium.
Nevertheless, the study found that Huracan and Agriotherium had dentitions that are more tailored to carnivory than the majority of Indarctos species, suggesting that a radiation of diversified ecological carnivores occurred before the later-diverging, highly tailored herbivores in the giant panda lineage.
Since they were more cursorial and hence more adapted to open environments, the Huracan and its closest relation Agriotherium species displaced their forebears at a time of major global cooling and grassland expansion, according to the researchers.