Two Evolutionary Paths Lead to One Panda Grip

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Fossils show that raccoon-like red pandas and bearish giant pandas, which aren’t close kin, evolved the same way to grip with their paws for different reasons, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Both have a “false thumb,” a wrist bone that helps pandas fold their paw pads to grasp objects.

An extinct red-panda relative, a meat eater called Simocyon batalleri, used a false thumb to climb trees. Giant pandas use it to grasp food.

The fossils demonstrate “convergent evolution,” a phenomenon in which unrelated organisms develop similar features over time, researchers said.