September 22, 2006
Scientists Find 2nd Red Panda Specimen
GRAY, Tenn. (AP) - Scientists uncovered a second fossil of a red panda species first discovered at the Gray Fossil Site two years ago. Researchers from East Tennessee State University found a lower jawbone from a red panda of the Pristinailurus bristoli species last week.
"The nice thing about it is that it's confirmation," Dr. Steven Wallace, ETSU's lead paleontologist at the site, said Wednesday. "You hate to have a one-shot wonder."
The species was discovered in January 2004 when ETSU researchers found a panda tooth and other skeletal fragments. Only the second panda fossil found on the continent, the remains turned out to be a previously unknown species in the red panda family.
Scientists believe the jawbone is from a second specimen of the same species of red panda because the teeth are older than the first tooth found.
"The first tooth was virtually unerupted. It had no wear," Wallace said. "This was from a much older adult that had full wear on all its teeth."
Although the jawbone was found in two pieces, it is nearly complete.
"What it's missing are the little front premolars, which are really tiny and often fall out, but other than that, it's a really nice specimen," Wallace said.
The Gray Fossil Site near Johnson City was discovered during the widening of a highway in 2000 and is estimated at 4.5 million to 7 million years old.
The university is building a $10 million visitors center with a laboratory and instruction space on a portion of the site. It is slated to open in 2007.
Information from: Johnson City Press, http://www.johnsoncitypress.com