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American Lion: giant ancestor of modern cats

For a long time, until the moment when a man became a hunter and acquired a weapon, at the top of the food chain of our planet were representatives of the cat family. Of course, these were not modern lions, jaguars, leopards and tigers, but their extinct ancestors, such as a saber-toothed tiger or an American lion. Let's get acquainted virtually with the prehistoric extinct American lion, or, as the scientists call it, Panthera leo atrox.

Biological Description

All lions, as well as jaguars, tigers and leopards are members of the feline family (Felidae), belong to the subfamily Pantherinae - large cats, and the genus Panthera (panther). According to scientific studies, the evolution of this species occurred about 900,000 years ago, where today's Africa is located. Later representatives of this species inhabited most of the Holarctic territory. The earliest remains of predators in Europe were found near the Italian city of Isernia, and their age was determined at 700,000 years. On the Eurasian continent, approximately 300,000 years ago, a cave lion lived. Due to the isthmus, which at that time combined America with Eurasia, part of the population of these cave predators came across Alaska and Chukotka to North America, where a new subspecies of lions, American, was formed due to prolonged isolation.

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As a result of long-term joint work conducted by researchers from Russia, England, Australia and Germany, it was found that all we had on the planet were three kinds of lions. Today a rather small area is inhabited by a modern lion. But before it existed two prehistoric and extinct species today. First of all, it is a cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea), inhabiting the west of Canada and the territory of almost all Eurasia in the Pleistocene. In addition, there was also an American lion (Panthera leo atrox), who lived in the territory of the modern United States. And also in some parts of South America. It is also called the North American lion, or the giant jaguar of Nigel. As a result of studies of the genetic material of fossil animals and modern predators, it was possible to establish that all three kinds of lions are very similar in their genome. But what more could be learned by scientists: the subspecies of the American lion was more than 340,000 years old in genetic isolation, and during this time it became very different from other subspecies.

Where did they come from?

Initially, the lions that came from Africa settled the territory of Eurasia and only then crossed the isthmus of Beringia, which connected North America with the Eurasian continent in those distant times, and began to develop a new continent. Scientists suggest that the emergence of two different species in North America is associated with the isolation of representatives of these two populations as a result of glaciation. According to another hypothesis, different species: cave and American lions - are representatives of two waves of migration from Eurasia, quite far apart from each other in time.

What did he look like?

Like other prehistoric predators, the American lion disappeared approximately 10,000 years ago. At one time it was one of the largest and most dangerous animals: its length could reach three meters and even more, and the weight reached the females to 300, and in males and to 400 kg. Among scientists, there is still no agreement on whether this animal had a mane, like its modern descendant, or not. However, they describe his appearance quite definitely: on his powerful legs was a dense, muscular body, crowned by a large head, and behind was a long tail. The color of the skin, as the researchers suggest, was monophonic, but, perhaps, seasonally changed. The most morphologically close to the American lion are ligers - the offspring of a tigress and a lion. It is difficult to describe what the American lion looked like. Photo reconstruction of his appearance helps to understand how much he looks like his modern "relative".

Where did he live?

As a result of archaeological excavations, the remains of this animal were found on a fairly large area: from Peru to Alaska. This allowed scientists to assert that the American lion lived not only in the North, but also in certain regions of South America. Many of the remains of this animal were discovered near Los Angeles. Even today, despite the significant advances in science, scientists can not name the exact and specific reasons that caused the extinction of this predator about 10,000 years ago. There are hypotheses about the depletion of fodder land and the death of animals that served as food to American lions, due to glaciation and changing climatic conditions. There is also a version about the involvement of ancient people in the extermination of this formidable predator.

Food and competitors

The American lion at one time could hunt the ancestors of modern wapiti and bison, as well as extinct bushy bulls, western camels, wild bulls and horses (Equus). At the same time, other large carnivores, also extinct, lived on the North American continent.

To protect their prey and hunting grounds, lions could be grouped together. Defending their food and territory, the American lion fought against the saber-toothed tiger (Machairodontinae), terrible ancient wolves (Canis dirus) and short-sighted bears (Arctodus simus).

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