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Extinct American lion.

FOSSIL FIELD GUIDE

Panthera atrox
American Lion
Family: Felidae

Time
Pleistocene Epoch

Description
Panthera atrox is the scientific name of the extinct American lion that lived throughout much of North America during the later part of the Pleistocene (approximately 120,000 to 10,000 years ago). Fossil remains of this species have been found in the American Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Alaska, as well as parts of Mexico. The American lion closely resembled the modern African lion, but was about 25% larger and heavier than the living species. Paleontologists hypothesize that Panthera atrox lived and hunted in open grassland savannah habitats. Whether this extinct species was gregarious and lived in social groups like the modern African lion is not known, but some studies suggest that it was.


Panthera atrox
Skull and mandible
UCMP catalog no. 20049

The important Ice Age fossil deposits at Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles have yielded well-preserved bones of Panthera atrox, including several beautiful skulls. Fossil remains of Smilodon fatalis (the saber-toothed cat) are much more abundant than those of Panthera atrox in the asphalt deposits at Rancho La Brea suggesting perhaps that the American lion was more intelligent in avoiding the tar traps



Text: Dr. Tom Deméré
Illustration: William Stout
Fossil photograph: Dr. Tom Deméré