This chapter was one of my favorite chapters in this entire book.
I actually lived in South Korea for a good 10 years of my live, and I remember seeing a lot of animals in the countryside that I wouldn’t see anywhere back in California. While I haven’t seen any panda’s in the wild, I do remember them visiting South Korea when I was in middle school. It was at an amusement park and cartoons of those two adorable bears were plastered all over the park.
This chapter was quite interesting because it discussed how genetics set in stone the evolutionary path of the Giant Panda.
Before, a lot of people were confused with the Giant Panda. It physically and morphologically looked like a distinct relative of the “Red Panda” which is actually a type of raccoon. The chapter discusses in quite detail the specific traits of the Giant Panda that made it “clearly a member of the raccoon family”. However, Stephen O’Brien and his team actually deciphered the DNA of the Giant Panda, compared it to bears as well as the Red Panda. Despite the multiple similarities between the Giant Panda and the Red Panda, “molecular genetics doesn’t lie” and evidently proved that the Giant Panda was indeed a member of the bear.
The main lesson this chapter was teaching me was that “homologous evolution can be misleading”
The book discusses how the bears diverged from the Polar Bear, the Black Bear, the Grizzly, and the Panda. It is thought that the Giant Panda diverged so much to the point that it did not seem like a bear at close inspection. However at the same time the ancestor of the Giant Panda was evolving, the ancestor of the Red Panda was evolving with it. These two distinct animals evolved together to have similar traits, even though that they are not genetically the same. This is what we call “homologous evolution.” Another example would be how dolphins and whales have evolved with flippers for the same purpose to swim, but they are not the same species.