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J Anat. 2006 Dec;209(6):757-64.

Implications of the functional anatomy of the hand and forearm of Ailurus fulgens (Carnivora, Ailuridae) for the evolution of the 'false-thumb' in pandas.

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Departamento de Paleobiología, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC, Madrid, Spain.


Both the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) possess a 'false-thumb', actually an enlarged radial sesamoid bone, which contributes to the gripping action of the hand. These species are not closely related, however, as one is an ursid and the other an ailurid, so the fact that they share this adaptation implies a remarkable convergence. We studied the functional anatomy of this structure in the red panda, comparing it with existing descriptions of the grasping mechanism in both pandas. Previous interpretations of the radial sesamoid in Ailurus as a rod-like structure without direct articulation to the wrist bones are inaccurate. There are various important differences between the red panda and the giant panda. In the former, the lesser development of the radial sesamoid, its connection with the flexor retinaculum, the presence of an insertion of the muscle abductor pollicis longus in the first metacarpal, which enhances its supinatory action, and the presence of a muscle flexor brevis digitorum manus point to thin-branch climbing features serving as an exaptation to the more recent role of the red panda hand in the manipulation of bamboo.

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