Evolution of the Giant Panda
Pandas are one of the most exhilarating animals to wonder about. Considering that they are always viral with their cute mannerisms, laughable actions, and endearing appearances, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that these cute creatures, which are often gawked at in zoos, are actually a species of bear. In fact, whether pandas were closer to raccoons or bears was a heated discussion topic because of the fact that pandas’ habits are nothing like bears’. Regardless of how much they look alike with raccoons, or that raccoons are called “trash pandas” jokingly (Mueller), pandas are concluded to be in the “Ursidae” family along with some other species of bears (Wikipedia). Yet, despite all that, one attribute of pandas sets them aside from other bears more distinctly than others: Pandas are strictly vegetarian (excluding exceptions such as red pandas).
Pandas exclusively feed off bamboo to the point that the word panda and bamboo have been associated for as long as time. Today, we know that, before what we know as the current giant panda, Ailuropoda baconi followed by Ailuropoda microta is one of the earliest predecessors of the panda. The significance of that is it signals that pandas were separated from other bears and became unique hundreds of thousands of years ago. Although the lead may be ambiguous, this shows a better understanding of why pandas have the adaptations they now possess.
Pandas’ diets are mostly made up of bamboo. Yet, eating bamboo is not as easy as it looks and not as nutritious as one would guess. Thus, pandas need to consume lots to acquire the amount of nutrition they need. This leads to the harsh bamboo trees requiring arduous work of hands at the end to meet their needs.
Thus, pandas’ curious dietary habits that are limited to bamboo, and even limited to specific species of bamboo, lead to more research about their certain characteristics. One of which is pandas’ teeth, their “adapted premolars”(“The Giant Panda's Mystery Revealed”) which they use to peel the outer layer with their teeth to consume the plant. Apparently, the contribution of their evolved joints and premolars located on the sides of the canines helps to explain why canine teeth on their upper jaw do not interfere with the sideways movement of their lower jaw, a movement that is typical of herbivores, even though they are large (“The Giant Panda's Mystery Revealed”). On top of their aforementioned joint, the temporomandibular joint, assists in the sideways movement as well as to and fro. These two assets combined, the evolved joint and teeth, pandas are able to peel bamboos with efficiency without any damage to their premolar teeth with the outer layer of bamboos that contain attritive, which damages teeth. (Professor Pekka Vallittu from the Institute of Dentistry/Science Daily)
All in all, learning about the evolution of these fluffy, almost toy-looking animals is a new perspective with which we can process our surroundings and all habitants of the world more accurately. Pandas are often regarded as amusing animals to stare at in zoos or watch cute videos online; maybe hearing occasional quips about how they survived on this planet, while they require attention from their caretakers. I believe that understanding the evolution of these animals or how their characteristics developed provides an in-depth comprehension of nature itself.
“The Giant Panda's Mystery Revealed.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 9 July 2021, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210709104215.htm.
“How Pandas Survive Solely on Bamboo: Evolutionary History.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 30 June 2022, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/06/220630114456.htm.
Mueller, Marcus. “Pandas and Raccoons Related? the Surprising Family Tree.” Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, 10 Oct. 2019, https://www.skedaddlewildlife.com/blog/pandas-and-raccoons-related/#:~:text=Pandas and raccoons belong to,to which the pandas belong.
“Ailuropoda Microta.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Oct. 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ailuropoda_microta.