Posts Tagged ‘Puma concolor’

17,000 Year Old Cougar Crap Found in Argentina

September 7, 2019

When I was researching cougars for my book about 12 years ago and typed the word into a google search, the page was dominated by information about older women who wanted to have sexual relationships with younger men.  This was an unexpected result.  I wanted to learn more about the big cat,  Puma concolor, not about older women seeking younger men.  I see that has changed since then and there are more balanced results with equal representation between the 2 different definitions.

Image result for cougar

Female cougar and young.  I hypothesize Pleistocene adult cougars were spotted.

Cougars were a common large predator throughout most of North America from about 500,000 years BP, until European colonization.  They apparently share a common ancestry with an extinct species of pseudo-cheetah known as Miracinonyx inexpectus.  The cougars that lived in North America then were an extinct ecomorph that was replaced from a population of cougars originating in eastern South America after the great Pleistocene megafauna extinction.  Recently, a cougar coprolite (fossilized feces) was found inside a rock shelter in Catamarca, Argentina.  This region is mountainous and dry, explaining why it was so well preserved.  Scientists used DNA to identify the turd came from a cougar.  They also found DNA belonging to Toxascaris leonine, a parasitic roundworm.  This is the oldest parasitic DNA ever recorded.  Scientists previously thought this species of roundworm was brought to North America inside the guts of domesticated dogs and cats, but this coprolite dates to 17,000 years BP before domesticated pets were brought to the New World.  The species of cat ancestral to the cougar likely brought this parasitic roundworm across the Bering Land Bridge millions of years ago.

Image result for Toxascaris leonina

Toxascaris leonine.

Cougars often ingest roundworms when they eat rodents.  Ingested eggs hatch in the small intestine, and the worms mate and lay eggs that are then passed in the feces.  Rodents consume the eggs and are in turn eaten by the cats and the lifecycle continues.  Adult worms can reach lengths of 3-7 inches.  This species of roundworm can make cats sick, but not as bad as other species that can cause fatal parasitic infections.  T. cati and T. canis  may travel to an animal’s lungs, causing death.  Most kittens are infested with T. cati  through their mother’s milk.  Most survive and naturally get rid of the parasites.  De-worming medications cure infections too.

Reference:

Petrigh, R.; J. Martries, M. Monding, and M. Fugass

“Ancient Parasitic DNA Reveals Toxascaris leonine Presence in Fossil Pleistocene of North America”

Parasitiology 146 (10) 2019

An Anatomical Comparison Between the Extinct North American Cheetahs (Miracynonyx sp.) and the Late Pleistocene/Holocene Cougar (Puma concolor)

May 28, 2018

One of my readers recently asked whether the cougar (Puma concolor) might be the same species as the extinct North American cheetahs (Miracynonyx inexpectatus and M. trumani).  This is not as ridiculous a question as a layman might think because paleontologists often mistakenly identify multiple species from fossil remains that after re-evaluation are eventually determined to be from 1 species.  I love reading articles about vertebrate paleontology, but I usually skip over anatomical descriptions because they are pretty dry.  But to answer his question, I used google to search for a paper comparing the anatomical differences between Puma and Miracynonyx.  I did not find a journal article with a comprehensive anatomical comparison between the 2, but I did recall a paper I’d already read that discussed some of the differences.  I’ve linked the paper below in  my references.

Cougars and North American cheetahs had different-sized teeth.  Cougars have larger canines and lower molars than North American cheetahs, but they have smaller lower premolars (p4) and smaller upper pre-molars (P3).  They also have a “less reduced protocone on upper premolar P4.”  North American cheetahs had longer limbs than cougars as the below photos from the linked paper show.  So the answer is no.  Cougars were definitely not the same species as the North American cheetahs.

Fossil history of the panther (Puma concolor) and the cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx inexpectatus) in Florida - Page 208

Comparison of limb bones between cougar and North American cheetah shows the latter had longer hind foot bones and were better runners.

Fossil history of the panther (Puma concolor) and the cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx inexpectatus) in Florida - Page 210

North American cheetahs had longer front foot bones as well.

Cougars and North Americans cheetahs are closely related, however.  Genetic evidence suggests their shared lineage originated 6-8 million years ago, and a puma-like cat, probably Puma pardoides, crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia shortly after this.  In North America the puma-like ancestor diverged into 3 lines: cougars, North American cheetahs, and jaguarundis. The Puma genus diverged from Miracynonyx about 3.2 million years ago.

The fossil evidence shows M. inexpectatus  lived all across North America from the late Pliocene to the middle Pleistocene (~3 million years BP-~300,000 years BP).  In the Florida Museum of Natural History there are 47 records in state of M. inexpectatus at sites thought to date from the Pliocene to the mid-Pleistocene, but they are known from just 1 late Pleistocene site in Florida.  This site is named Lecanto 2A. The only other Late Pleistocene site with a possible M. inexpecatus  fossil (1 leg bone) is in Cavetown, Maryland.  These specimens can’t be radio-carbon dated.  The reason the specimen from Lecanto 2A is considered Late Pleistocene is its association with specimens of other species known from this age including dire wolf, Florida spectacled bear, rice rat, and cotton rat.  It’s possible there were relic populations of M. inexpectatus  still living during the Late Pleistocene, but it seems more likely it’s a case of older fossils getting mixed with younger fossils.

M. inexpectatus  expanded its range at a time coinciding with the expansion of grassland habitat.  Its long legs helped it run down prey.  M. trumani was even more adapted for living in open habitat.  This species appeared during the Late Pleistocene and was restricted to western North America as far as we know from the fossil record.  M. trumani is probably a descendent of M. inexpecatus which had intermediate characteristics between cougars and M. trumani. 

The paleobiology database indicates cougar fossils dating to the Early and Mid Pleistocene in California, Idaho, Washington, and Mexico have been reported.  Nevertheless, cougar fossils predating the Late Pleistocene are rare.  In the Florida Museum of Natural History there are 44 records of cougar from the Late Pleistocene but just 2 from the Mid Pleistocene and 2 from the Early Pleistocene.  The early Pleistocene specimens are referred to as Puma lacrustis, but I searched for this scientific name on google and found nothing, so I’m not sure what these specimens actually were.  Genetic evidence suggests cougars were well established in South America between 300,000 years BP-200,000 years BP, and this corresponds with the widespread fossil evidence of this species throughout North America during this time period.  I hypothesize cougars began to expand their range widely during an early Rancholabrean interglacial from a regional ancestral population undetected in the fossil record.  This time period would correspond to when forested conditions expanded.  Cougars are ambush predators that prefer forests and woodlands.

North American cheetahs are not as closely related to Old World cheetahs as previously thought.  Physical similarities between the 2 are just another example of convergent evolution.

References:

Barnett, Ross; et. al.

“Evolution of the Extinct Sabretooth and the American Cheetah-like Cat”

Current Biology 15 (5) August 2005

Culver, M.; W. Johnson, J. Pecon-Slattery, and S. O’Brien

“Genomic Ancestry of the American Puma (Puma concolor)

Journal of Heredity 91 (3) 2009

Morgan, Gary and Kevin Seymour

“Fossil History of the Panther (Puma concolor)  and the Cheetah-like Cat (Miracynonxy inexpectatus) in Florida”

Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 1997

http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095787/00001/1j

 

 

A Good Narrative about the American Cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani) may be Ruined but maybe not

May 22, 2015

The close physical similarity between the extinct cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani) of Pleistocene North America, and the still extant cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) of Africa and Asia caused confusion among paleontologists.  The anatomy of both species shared characteristics of a cat built for great speed.  Paleontologists thought cheetahs originally evolved in North America and later colonized Asia and Africa.  Then, based on a re-evaluation of the fossil evidence and new genetic studies, scientists realized the similarity between the Old World cheetah and the North American cheetah was just a case of convergent evolution that occurs when 2 unrelated species evolve similar traits to help them adapt to similar environments.  The 2 species were not as closely related as formerly thought.  Instead, the North American cheetah evolved from an extinct Asian cougar (Puma pardoides) that crossed the Bering Land Bridge over 6 million years ago.  After Puma pardoides colonized North America, the species diverged into 3 lineages.  One line led to an animal adapted for hunting on the grassy plains–M. trumani.  Another line evolved into the jaguarundi (Puma jagouaroundi), a small cat of tropical brush habitat.  The third line evolved into the modern cougar (Puma concolor), a generalist species well adapted for living in a wide range of environments.  Puma concolor doesn’t occur in the fossil record until ~500,000 years BP, but I believe its evolutionary predecessor was Miracinonyx inexpectus.  Temporally, fossil material of Puma concolor and M. inexpectus doesn’t overlap. The latter was likely the late Pliocene/early Pleistocene version of the cougar.  Miracinonyx studeri, a scientific name used in some studies, is merely a synonym for M. inexpectus.

The American Cheetah looked like its African cousin, but became extinct in North America about 10,000 years ago.

Artist’s depiction of an American cheetah chasing a pronghorn.  Pronghorns can run up to 60 miles per hour.  No extant predator in North America even comes close to this.  An analysis of the anatomy of the extinct American cheetah suggests it was built for this kind of speed with long legs, flexible spine, and large nasal passages for rapid air intake.

Pronghorn antelopes (Antilocapra americana) reach speeds far exceeding any extant predator living in North America.  Scientists hypothesized they evolved this capability to outrun a predator that is now extinct.  They believe M. trumani was that predator.

A few years ago, paleontologists excavated fossil material they identified as M. trumani from several caves within the Grand Canyon.  This high elevation habitat was home to mountain goats (Oreamnos harrington and Oreamnos americanus) not pronghorns.  These scientists proposed the American cheetah, at least at this locality, occupied a niche like that of an alpine snow leopard (Uncia uncia), a big cat that hunts on steep rocky slopes.  It would seem the narrative about the American cheetah and pronghorn might be ruined.  However, Ross Barnett, author of a study referenced below, is not convinced the fossil material found in the Grand Canyon is from American cheetah.  These specimens were identified by comparing them with bones from modern cougars and other American cheetah remains.  M. trumani was somewhat larger than modern cougars, so it was assumed the Grand Canyon material represented American cheetah, not cougar.  Dr. Barnett suggests the material should have been compared with fossil remains of Pleistocene cougars which were on average larger than modern cougar.  The Grand Canyon material may actually be Pleistocene cougar.  Cougars are well adapted for living on steep slopes. So the narrative of the American cheetah and the pronghorn may not be ruined. Incidentally, the cougars that lived in North America were an extinct ectomorph–all modern North American cougars descend from a small population originating from eastern South America.

There’s no fossil evidence M. trumani ever lived east of the Mississippi River.  But M. inexpectus and Puma concolor are a common enough (for a large carnivore) find in fossil sites throughout southeastern North America.

Some now refer to the American cheetah as the “false cheetah.”  I don’t think the adjective “false” should be used to describe an animal, simply because humans were once confused about its evolutionary relationships.

References:

Barnett, Ross; et. al.

“Evolution of the Extinct Sabre-tooths and the American Cheetah-like Cat”

Current Biology 2005

Hodnett, Jean-Paul; et. al.

“Miracinonyx trumani (Carnivore: Felidae) from the Rancholabrean of Grand Canyon, Arizona and its Implications for the Ecology of the American Cheetah”

Programs and Abstracts, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 2010

Another Excerpt from Frances Harper’s Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp–“The Florida Cougar”

July 25, 2013

Testing 1,2,3

I’ve been periodically posting excerpts from a rare book published in 1927 by Frances Harper entitled Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp.  This excerpt is a collection of local accounts about the cougar.  It mentions the last known specimen killed by hunters in Georgia in 1925 (until 2007 when a hunter shot a wandering Florida panther near Lagrange).   The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has proposed the Okefenokee Swamp as a possible site for re-introduction of the Florida panther, although it’s unclear which subspecies of cougar used to live here.  The population that inhabited south Georgia may have been a blend of Florida panther and eastern cougar, the latter of which has been declared extinct.  I would like to live where cougars roam, but from one of the accounts below, I can understand why this might make some people nervous.  Cougars used to jump on people’s roofs.  I don’t think suburban moms would be too crazy about a 150 pound cat standing on top of their house while their kids were playing in the backyard.  The below account also uses a racially offensive place name.  I chose not to censor it because I favor historical accuracy.  Harper used the archaic scientific name, Felis coryi, for cougar.  The official scientific name for the cougar today is Puma concolor.

Florida Cougar from Mammals of the Okefinokee Swamp

“When Goldsmith sang of the  ‘wild Altamaha Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey’  his zoogeographical knowledge was not so faulty as some critics have supposed.  For to this day the Cougar is almost invariably spoken of as ‘Tiger’ in the Okefinokee region, and doubtless it has been known since colonial times in many other localities in the Southeastern states.  There is little to record of it in the present region except the accounts of bygone days, for it is now very nearly if not entirely extinct.  Yet it lingered well into the present century, and it is perhaps not beyond the bounds of possibility that some solitary survivor may yet be taken.

James Henderson, one of the oldest of the local hunters, has heard one or two in his time, and spoke of having been ‘backed out by a Tiger one night.’

J.D. Hendrix, a contemporary of Henderson’s saw a ‘Tiger’ that had been killed by Judge Albritton on the Nigger Camp Islands, near the upper end of Cowhouse Island, about 1883.  The only one he ever saw alive was on the Big Water, about 1903.

He also spoke of one killed by William Gunter on the Little Okefinokee in 1864.  The latter’s wife went down to a spring about 4 p.m, and was followed by a ‘Tiger.’  She ran to the house, and tried to shut the dog out.  The ‘Tiger’ jumped on to the house, and walked from one end of the roof to the other.  The man meanwhile came back from the woods with an old flintlock.  He saw the animal, dropped down to his knees, and shot it off the house.  It measured 9 feet from tip to tip.

Harrrison Lee stated that about 1876 his father, Dan Lee, and a companion were pursuing a ‘Tiger’ with dogs on Suwanoochee Creek a few miles above Fargo.  While temporarily separated from his companion, he was mistaken for a ‘Tiger’ and seriously wounded with a rifle ball.

It is said that about 1896 a “Tiger’ appeared in the Lees yard on Billy’s Island, and fought with the dogs before running off.  It was seen by Avner and Farley Lee.

Allan Chesser has never seen a ‘Tiger’ but has ‘seen where they killed deer and kivered ’em up…I’ve seen many a deer where they’d been fought by the Tigers.  Jest the throat cut.  I’ve seen where they’ve jumped on ’em.  No sign er scufflin’ a-tall; just squashed ’em down ter earth an’ killed ’em right there.  One time one scared me out er goin’ out on the prairie.  I stood still a little while an’ watched  ‘is tracks fill up with water, an’ I decided ter go on.  I didn’t see nothin’ ‘uv ‘im.  The bushes wuz thick.  That’s ben, I expec’, erbout 18 er 20 years ago.  In what is called Buck Prairie, on the north side er Black Jack.’

About 1910 Allen and Sam Chesser saw the tracks of a ‘Tiger’ along their trail from Lake Sego to Chesser’s Island.  There was a distance of 4 feet between each track of the hind feet at a walking gait.  Its trail was followed to where it had pulled up ferns to make its bed in a prairie ‘house.’  Hair about 6 inches long was found in its bed.

Allen Chesser also reported that three of the animals had been killed by a man named Osteen about 1885 on the eastern edge of the swamp half a dozen miles southeast of Chesser’s Island.

About 1898, while working in the swamp about 3 miles east of Coffee Bay on the canal, Sam Mizell heard a ‘Tiger’ one evening.  He said the sound suggested some one ‘hollerin while hoarse,’ and that it ended with a sort of growl.  About 1903 he saw tracks where one had killed a deer on Craven’s Hammock.  He also found the skeletons of two deer that had been covered up with leaves, bushes, etc., evidentally by a ‘Tiger.’

Leonard Lloyd spoke of having seen the tracks of a ‘Tiger’ crossing the St. Mary’s River near Stanley Branch, above Trader’s Hill in 1901.

In 1916 John Hopkins, superintendent of the Hebard Cypress Company, informed me that seven or eight years previously there was a newspaper report, which he considered authentic, to the effect that a Panther had been killed between Mixon’s Ferry and Moniac, and exhibited in Valdosta.

On or about December 19, 1916, a hog was killed between Mixon’s Ferry and Fargo by some animal which a resident of that section, Sam Jordan, pronounced a ‘Tiger.’  A couple of weeks later Steve Williams was traveling in an automobile along the road between Fargo and Homerville, about 10 miles from the former place, when he saw a ‘Tiger’ cross the road very close in front of the machine.  Some hounds had apparently been in pursuit of the animal.

I heard from Samuel Davis a report of one passing along the St. Mary’s River near St. Georgia on July 24, 1921, and ‘hollerin almost like a woman.’ He also stated that ‘one comes through every year.’  On September 16, 1922, I heard from Ben Chesser another rumor of one having been seen recently in the vicinity of St. George.

According to McQueen and Mizell, ‘a large panther was killed a year or so ago (1925?) on the southern edge of the Okefinokee after it had killed an unusual number of grown range cattle.'”

Cougars, House Cats, and Berserkers

March 28, 2012

Cougars are capable of breeding year round.  This is evidence they evolved from an ancestor that lived in a tropical climate.  Other large mammals living in temperate climates breed in late fall and early winter so they can give birth in spring and early summer when food is more abundant.   Deer and elk fawns and bison calves build a layer of fat during summer that helps them survive harsh winters.  But the same isn’t true for cougars.  Cougars give birth year round, and scientists have found no difference in survival rates among kittens born during different times of the year.  A kitten born during a harsh winter in the Rocky Mountains even has some advantages.  The mother doesn’t have to travel as far to find food because there is an increase in the number of prey animals weakened from starvation.  Animals such as elk and deer also struggle in deep snows, making them easier to kill.  Moreover, bears, a dangerous threat to kittens left alone by hunting mothers, are hibernating and not foraging.  There was no advantage for cougars to evolve the trait of breeding only during certain times of the year. Photo from the December 1994 issue of Natural History Magazine showing a cougar killing a mountain goat. The illustration of the larger cat is an artist’s rendering of the middle Pleistocene cheetah–Miracinonyx inexpectus.  The smaller cat in the picture is a modern day cheetah.  Cougars evolved from the ancestor of the middle Pleistocene cheetah, known as Studer’s cheetah–Miracinonyx studeri.  Studer’s cheetah had characteristics intermediate between a cougar and a cheetah.  It could run faster than a cougar, but was larger, stronger, and more powerfully built than a modern cheetah, and therefore could climb trees and ambush larger prey.  North American cheetahs had retractible claws, a characteristic modern cheetahs lack. Cougars were a common predator in the southeast during the late Pleistocene.  There is plenty of fossil evidence of cougars from Georgia and Florida.  Fossil evidence of cheetahs comes from middle Pleistocene sites in Florida, but by the late Pleistocene American cheetahs were restricted to the western part of the continent. The biggest threat to cougar kittens is adult male cougars.  There is an evolutionary advantage for male cougars that kill cougar kittens.  Male cougars that kill the offspring of other males can then mate with the females that go into heat following the loss of their kittens.  This increases the chance his genes will continue into the future.  A male cougar that covers the most territory, kills the most kittens, and mates the most often is generally the fittest, most capable individual in the area.  Baby-killing appears to be a universal trait among most, if not all, cat species, including the house cat (Felis domestica). Lone Ranger, my favorite cat.  She was the runt of a litter.  She adopted me during the dead of winter about 2.5 years ago.  Despite her small size, she bravely drives off the much larger tom cats who try to kill her kittens.  Nevertheless, she has never successfully protected her kittens from the persistent homicidal males for longer than 6 weeks.  Oddly enough, she willingly mates with the tom cats days after they kill her babies. Currently, two female cats have adopted my yard as their home base.  Hissy-fit was one of a whole slew of cats that I think belonged to a former neighbor two houses from mine.  The underfed, half-feral cats swarmed to my compost pile whenever I threw junk in there they considered edible.  I began to pick favorites from this group and fed them real food.  Eventually, cars, dogs, and disease thinned the number of cats, but Hissy-fit, my least favorite, still lives.  She is not a friendly cat–she hisses at me, and she used to lean away (a hint not to pet her) even as I fed her, though after several years of socialization, she now tolerates being petted.  She rarely makes the meow vocalization, but instead hisses, even when she’s seemingly not angry.  She gave birth to my favorite cat–Lone Ranger, the lone survivor from that litter.  She left Lone Ranger for long periods of time on our front door step one cold December when the kitten was a few weeks old.  I took the time to properly tame her, and the first time I let her play with a ball of yarn, she purred.  Lone Ranger is a gentle, affectionate cat, but she is a slut.  In 2 1/2 years she’s already had 3 litters.  Despite being a runt, she’s always very courageous when defending her kittens from the much larger tom cats that persistently try to kill every kitten in their territory.  When she’s protecting her own kittens, she even drives her own mother from the yard.  Hissy-fit just gave birth to another kitten, and Lone Ranger is helping her defend it.  The two cats worked as a team to defend a single newborn kitten last summer as well but were ultimately unsuccessful.  Tom cats are relentless and merciless. I noticed a peculiarity last year.  Lone Ranger went into heat and mated with a tom cat I suspected of killing and eating her kittens a few days earlier.  Imagine if a human mother would agree to have sex with a man who killed and ate her babies.  It seems unthinkable, bizarre.  Yet, in human history similar scenarios are not that uncommon.   Vikings, aided by a berserker, raiding a village.  Berserkers were psychotically violent  men used as shock troops.  In peacetime they were bullies who challenged rich men to death duels.  After killing the wealthy man they took his land, livestock, and women.  Geneological records show berserkers did leave more descendents than other men.  Humans are not so different from cats afterall. The Vikings were known for their violent culture, but within this society were men who were the most violent of the violent–the creme` de la creme`, so to speak.  These insanely violent men were called berserkers.  Historians suspect they may have been psychopaths or schizoids immune to any semblence of conscience.  Viking kings used them to help intimidate the monasteries and villages they raided and looted.  Berserkers were a great help when they were on a raid, but at home during peaceful intervals they posed a problem.  They often challenged rich men to death duels.  I doubt wealthy men really had a viable way of opting out.  After killing the wealthy man, the berserker confiscated his land, livestock, and women.  The Vikings considered women little more than livestock.  The Viking wives and concubines had no choice but to submit to sex with the psycho who murdered the man they probably loved.  Berserkers were probably indifferent to the fate of babies and toddlers, but I’m sure infanticide did happen.  Berserkers infamously killed people who disturbed their sleep, and crying babies will do that. Incidentally, I don’t think many of the hundreds of google images of berserkers are historically accurate.  They’re always depicted as uber-muscular giants.  I believe berserkers were ordinary looking men.  It doesn’t take much muscle to kill a man with a sword or battle axe.  Instead, it takes ferocity and a lack of inhibition to murder.  The inhibition against killing other human beings is so surprisingly strong, that military experts extimate only 15% of U.S. combat infantrymen fired their rifles during World War II, even when they were being attacked.  The modern military specially trains men to overcome this inhibition, but still only achieve a 90% success rate at getting combat infantrymen to fire their weapons against other human beings in combat. Vikings were not the only culture that approved of killing other men and taking their women.  Many American Indian tribes massacred enemy villages with the exception of breeding-age women which they enslaved.  The Mongols under Ghengis Khan wiped out men and spread their seed among the surviving women to such an extent that today a significant percentage of the population in Eurasia has Mongol ancestry.  Some South Pacific Islanders not only killed their enemies but ate them as well.  Cannibalism most frequently occurs on crowded islands where there is a shortage of big game animals, and the people get tired of eating fish.  Overcrowded environments are also a contributing factor.  Perhaps, if overpopulation of the world approaches that of South Pacific islands, cannibalism might become as common for humans as it is for cats.  Maybe the movie, Soylent Green (based on the book, More Room, More Room) was a prophecy. Reference: McAllister, Peter Manthropology St. Martin’s Press 2009

Pleistocene Fossil Felid Ratios from the University of Florida Database

January 16, 2012

I followed the same procedure from last week’s study but counted the number of cat fossils in the University of Florida’s Natural History Museum database instead of dog fossils.  I only counted fossils dating from the Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age 300,000 BP-11,000 BP.  The results may be off a little because I was scrolling down while looking at a computer screen.  The results may also be misleading because many specimens may come from just 1 individual.   Nevertheless, I think the data reveals a good estimate of the ratio of species composition during the Pleistocene.

Listed on the University of Florida Museum of Natural History database, I counted 46 jaguar (Panthera onca) specimens, 21 giant panther (Panthera atrox) specimens, 42 saber-tooth (Smilodon fatalis) specimens, 6 scimitar-tooth (Dinobastis serum) specimens, 41 cougar (Puma concolor) specimens, 46 bobcat (Lynx rufus) specimens, 12 river cat (Leopardus amnicola or weidii) specimens and 1 ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) specimen.

The results are similar to those reported by the amateur fossil collectors who post on the fossil forum.  The most significant difference between their reports and database information is abundance of jaguar to saber-tooth abundance.  Amateur fossil collectors claim jaguar fossils are much more common in Florida than saber-tooth, though they do collect the latter and some have found scimitar-tooth specimens as well which are rare in the database.  It may be that the UF database includes a skeleton of a saber-tooth accounting for multiple specimens from 1 individual.

Dire wolves accounted for 64 specimens in my previous study, making them 33% more common, at least in the fossil record than any single species of big cat.  Overall, big cats combined outnumbered dire wolves 156 to 64, making large felines more than twice as common as dire wolves.  Perhaps there was less competition among species of canids, but more among felids.

Pleistocene habitats favorable to various species of big and small cats varied widely.  Mesic oak forests and cypress swamps, which expanded during warm interglacials and interstadials, favored jaguars, river cats, and ocelots.  Jaguars are adabtable enough to live in desertlike brush conditions which were common during cold arid stadials.  Cougars and bobcats thrive in many different types of environments.  The exact environments favored by giant panthers, saber-tooths, and scimitar-tooths is unknown, but it’s likely they were capable of adapting to many different ecotones.

Saber-tooths were evidently one of the most common large carnivores south of the ice sheets in North America.  They were actually no larger than a modern day jaguar.  Saber-tooths never colonized Eurasia, but a distant cousin, the scimitar-tooth had close relatives that did live from the southern tip of Africa to Alaska.  Scimitar-tooths also had longer front legs but these were more slender than those of the saber-tooth.  Their fangs were also smaller and more curved.  In Africa, Asia, and Europe scimitar-tooths became extinct much earlier than saber-tooths did in America.  I suspect they never learned to fear man, explaining their earlier extinction.  I suggest fanged cats didn’t often back down from anything.  Scimitar-tooths probably colonized southeastern North America during stadials when grasslands expanded due to dry climate which in turn caused an increase in the populations of ungulates. 

Giant panthers probably resembled large maneless lions.  True lions did live in Alaska and across Eurasia.  But south of the ice sheets in North America, the common ancestor split into 2 different species–Panthera atrox and Panthera onca.

8 cat 10 Biggest Cats in the History

This image comparing Pleistocene jaguars with modern jaguars may be a slight exaggeration, but jaguars did grow bigger during the Pleistocene because they preyed on larger mammals and had more competition among carnivores.

I’ll write more about the presence of margays and ocelots in Pleistocene Florida in my next blog entry.

Here are some related articles about big cats from my archives.

“Panthera atrox! What Kind of Cat was it?”– https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/panthera-atrox-what-kind-of-cat-was-it/

“Why did fanged cathttps://markgelbart.wordpress.com/tag/saber-tooth/s have sloping backs and large forelimbs?”–

“Two new studies of saber-tooths.”– https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/two-new-studies-of-sabertooth-smilodon-fatalis-anatomy/

“Cougars vs. jaguars”–https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/cougars-vs-jaguars/