The endangered giant panda has Spanish ties, geologists have found. Fossilized remains of the bear's ancient relative, Agriarctos beatrix, suggest that the newly discovered species roamed the Zaragoza province in Spain about 11 million years ago.
"This kind of bear was small, even smaller than the Malayan sun bear, the smallest found today," paleobiologist Juan Abella of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, who was part of the research team behind this discovery, said in a written statement.
Agriarctos beatrix would not have weighed more than 60 kilograms (about 130 pounds), the researchers said (sun bears can reach about 150 pounds). The panda relative would have had a dark coat with white patches in the chest, around the eyes, and possibly near the tail.
As a forest dweller, Agriarctos beatrix ate fruits and vegetables, similar to the sun bear. While the cause of extinction for this primitive bear remains undetermined, it faced competition from similar and larger species, Abella said.
Agriarctos beatrix isn't the only tiny relative to the giant panda. Ailuropoda microta, sometimes called the dwarf or pygmy panda, roamed parts of China about two million years ago.
Abella's research team published its findings in 2011 in the journal Estudios Geologicos.