Pygmy Giant Panda Skull Found

Posted by: Loren Coleman on June 18th, 2007

Giganto model

Bill Munns stands next to his model of a Gigantopithecus.

Russell L. Ciochon, the anthropologist who is responsible for most of the contemporary writings on Gigantopithecus, which some think is the best candidate for Bigfoot/Sasquatch, or for others, the Yeti, has announced a remarkable fossil find today, June 18, 2007.

The skull of the ancestor of the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, has been discovered. This ancestor species is the pygmy giant panda, Ailuropoda microta.

Funding for the project was made possible by the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation and the University of Iowa.

Ciochon Giganto jaw

Russell L. Ciochon holds the jaw of a Gigantopithecus.

According to the Associated Press, the new Ciochon announcement mentions in part:

The first skull of the earliest known ancestor of the giant panda was been discovered in China, researchers report. Discovery of the skull, estimated to be at least 2 million years old, is reported by Russell L. Ciochon in [June 19, 2007] Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ciochon, an anthropologist at the University of Iowa, and a team of U.S. and Chinese researchers, made the find in a limestone cave in south China.

The animal, formally known as Ailuropoda microta, or “pygmy giant panda,” would have been about three feet long, compared to the modern giant panda, which averages in excess of five feet. Previously this animal had been known only by a few teeth and bones, but a skull had never been found. Judging by the wear patterns on its teeth it also lived on a diet of bamboo, the main food of the current giant panda, the researchers said. Other than size, the animal was anatomically similar to today’s giant panda. “Skull of Giant Panda’s Ancestor Found,” Associated Press, June 18, 2007.

My wish, of course, is that this new find foreshadows the fossil discovery for which many of us have been waiting – the post-cranial remains of Gigantopithecus, a species only known from teeth and mandibles.

Is Gigantopithecus a rock ape or a giant hominid? Does it have anything to do with Bigfoot, Yeti, Yowie, or any of the other unknown hairy hominids (as opposed to unknown pongids and unknown anthropoids)?

With the discovery of the skull of Ailuropoda microta, I feel a slight ray of hope in this regard.


Later, more information is coming in on this fossil finding, and can be found here & here. Thanks Chad.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

11 Responses to “Pygmy Giant Panda Skull Found”

  1. Sasquatchery responds:

    I like the name “pygmy giant panda” – is that sort of like a regular-sized panda? LOL

  2. dogu4 responds:

    Interesting. The speculation regarding the evolution of a strictly vegetarian bear, particularly so. Do I understand correctly that part of the adaptation required the introduction of a species of bacterial that inhabit the digestive system in which if “ferments” or pre-digests the otherwise unavailable plant nutrients. Wonder if other animals eating the remains of pandas might not find themselves exposed to the benefits of these microorganisms which over time could benefit a creature with the adaptations to harbor and benefit from them. I think there’s something interesting and puzzling in the realm of horizontal gene transfer and the introduction of adaptive mitochondria.

  3. Tengu responds:

    But it still doesnt answer whether the panda is a bear or a raccoon like animal.

    and we must remember that Gigantopithecus had a similar ecological niche, that of fat arsed bamboo chewer.

    I doubt they could walk upright.

    (but this does not preclude a yet undiscovered relative who had a different, more active lifestyle!!!)

  4. MattBille responds:

    The question of the panda being a bear was settled a few years ago. It is one, and not closely related to the raccoon-like lesser panda. Its being so specialized, when all its relatives are omnivores, does pose interesting questions about how and why the species evolved as it dod.

    The argument about Giganto’s posture will not be settled definitevely until we mave more of the creature to examine. For what it’s worth, I did have an email exchange with Ciochon a few years ago, and he, at least, was certain the big ape was not bipedal. He thought Grover Krantz inferred too much from too little evidence when Krantz argued the spread of the jaw bones indicated an upright posture.

    Matt Bille

  5. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- Pandas have evolved many characteristics toward their bamboo diet, including enlarged wrist bones, pseudo opposable thumbs, tough throats to protect from splinters, and large molars. Puzzling enough, though, is that although pandas have adapted to a vegetarian diet, their digestive system is still that of a carnivore and contrary to popular belief, panda’s are actually physically capable of eating meat (although they will often starve rather than do so). This still essentially carnivorous digestive system does not keep pace well with their vegetarian diet. Since they still maintain the digestive system of a carnivore, pandas lack the digestive bacteria you mentioned and their digestive systems are actually terribly inefficient at breaking down the cellulose of plant matter. Most of what they eat gets passed through as waste. In order to compensate for this, pandas are required to consume huge amounts of bamboo, as much as 83 pounds a day over the course of up to 14 to 16 hours. For all of this, their digestive system only absorbs about one hours worth over the course of a day.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    It is interesting to me that for all of the characteristics that have evolved in pandas to specialize in eating bamboo, they still maintain a digestive system at odds with their diet. It seems to me that this would have evolved more effectively considering the large quantities of food that need to be secured that end up as waste. Not terribly efficient.

  7. dogu4 responds:

    Thanks MysteryMan for the enlightenment on digestive systems for the panda. That is very interesting. I can see now how volume would indeed require the big gut. I’m familiar with “the Panda’s thumb”…should re-read it now that molecular biology has definitively answered the question. Cheers.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- No problem. I’m happy if anyone learns something from one of my posts. One thing you mentioned that I also find fascinating is the possibilities represented by the horizontal gene transfer, especially the exciting possible insights it offers into evolution. It is probably not in keeping with the topic of this post and is a discussion for another time, but horizontal gene transfer versus vertical gene transfer is of great interest to me as well.

  9. dogu4 responds:

    Indeed, mystery man…I think a paradigm shift in understanding genetic mechanics is about to emerge. The old mendellian explanations are fine in the most simplistic explanation, but applying it to the species we see (and don’t see) is very unsatifsying. Will keep it in mind and look forward to the next opportunity to apply it as a possible explanation.

  10. DWA responds:

    Loren says: “My wish, of course, is that this new find foreshadows the fossil discovery for which many of us have been waiting – the post-cranial remains of Gigantopithecus, a species only known from teeth and mandibles.”

    Let’s not get too excited, Loren. After all, this – like everything we have of Giganto – is cranial only.

    Just needed to point that out. 😀

    That having been said: it’s really funny what passes for “knowledge” with scientists. (And the public, for that matter.) Note this: “Other than size, the animal was anatomically similar to today’s giant panda.” Um, and how do they know this? Particularly when Ciochon himself thinks Krantz came to incorrect conclusions from Giganto’s jawbone?

    Fact is, we know NOTHING about fossil animals.

    Read that again.


    It just needs to be constantly pointed out. Everything we “know” about prehistoric life is inference, gleaned from what we know about present-day animals. (If you think about it, there’s very little “knowledge” in the field of geology, either. Most geologic processes have to be inferred from what little we actually know; they can’t be directly observed or tested.)

    And note how long it took to find evidence of the giant panda’s lineage. (Part of the red panda’s – I believe the only part we’ve found – was unearthed in TENNESSEE, if I understand correctly.) Yet another pin in the no-sasquatch-fossils skeptic balloon.

    You never know. Until you KNOW.

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Well, as I’ve said before, fossils are a tricky thing. They are rare, and they pop up when you least expect them too. We do not have fossil evidence for all of the life that has ever existed on this planet and that is not even to say that the fossils do not exist somewhere. I have no doubt the post cranial remains of Gigantopithicus are out there, we just have not come across them yet. Fossilization is a rare process, so I will not be too surprised if fossil evidence for Bigfoot pops up someday.

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