The “American Lion”

Panthera atrox Fossil Skull

Writing in the National Geographic blog, paleontologist Hans-Dieter Sues describes the research of a Danish zoologist and American paleontologist into the characteristics of the extinct cat most frequently referred to as the “American lion,” Panthera atrox. As Sues suggests in The ‘American Lion’ is Not a Lion,

“A new study by the Danish zoologist Per Christiansen and the American paleontologist John Harris has recently clarified the relationships of Panthera atrox to other big cats (Pantherinae). The two researchers employed a variety of methods for statistical and shape analysis to compare large samples of skulls of present-day and extinct pantherine cats.

“Their analyses confirmed that the skull of Panthera atrox shares similarities with those of lions but also revealed many differences. The lower jaw of the extinct cat was more similar to those of the jaguar and tiger but also had features not found in any of the present-day big cats.

“In a comprehensive analysis of 23 skull dimensions, Panthera atrox emerged as quite distinct from lion, tiger, and jaguar. A separate study of the evolutionary history of pantherine cats by Christiansen placed the ‘American lion’ closest to the jaguar (Panthera onca).

“The work by Christiansen and Harris makes a compelling case that Panthera atrox was, in fact, a kind of giant jaguar rather than a lion.”

For more, see the post.

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Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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