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Ancient 'cousin' of pandas identified

May 9, 2012 at 3:25 PM   |   Comments

VALENCIA, Spain, May 9 (UPI) -- An ancient extinct "cousin" of the giant panda lived 11 million years ago in a region that is now the Zaragoza province in northwest Spain, scientists say.

The bear-like species, dubbed Agriarctos beatrix, was an omnivore and was genetically related to the giant panda, researchers from Spain's National Museum of Natural Sciences and the University of Valencia reported in the journal Estudios Geologicos.

"This bear species was small, even smaller than the Sun bear -- currently the smallest bear species. It would not have weighed more than 60 kilos (130 pounds)," museum paleobiologist Juan Abella said.

While it is difficult to determine physical appearance from the fossil fragments found, researchers said it likely would have had dark fur with white spots mainly on the chest, around the eyes and possibly close to the tail.

"This fur pattern is considered primitive for bears, such as that of the giant panda whose white spots are so big that it actually seems to be white with black spots," Abella said.

The ancient bear was a forest dweller, researchers said, and would have escaped from larger predators by climbing up trees.

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