About 20,000 years ago, in a cliff cave in the Grand Canyon, two American cheetahs fought with their teeth against claws. The victor is well-known in history, but one of the big cats, a young one that was bitten through the spine, may have died when it fell to the cave floor, leaving bones and fragments of mummy tissue.
Now, the remains of this hapless cat, along with fossils from two other Grand Canyon caves, have revealed that the American leopard is extinct.Miracinonyx trumani) may not have been fast sprinters in the flatlands of modern Africa leopards (Acinonyx jubilant). Instead, these cats may be more like today’s snow Leopards (Panthera uncia), prowling cliffs and rocky areas and eating mainly mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Scientists found fossils decades ago, and they identified the skeletons at the time as those of mountain lions (Puma concolor). But a recent reanalysis of the bone fragments suggests they instead belong to the American cheetah, which is known from other fossil sites. The American cheetah is closely related to the mountain lion, but has the short snout and slender proportions of today’s African cheetahs.
Cat by the cliff
The American leopard has been extinct for about 10,000 years. Before the final ending Ice AgeIt lives throughout North America – its bones have been found from West Virginia to Arizona, and as far north as Wyoming. The speed of this extinct cat is thought to explain why the modern pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) can run at 60 mph (96.5 km/h). No other pronghorn predator sprints that fast, but the American leopard probably can.
But new research shows that cheetahs mostly don’t hunt pronghorns – or at least, not the only ones. John-Paul Hodnett, a paleontologist at Maryland’s National Capital Park, says some jaguar fossils have been found in open valleys where ancient proboscis species roamed. Other such fossils are discovered in rocky slopes, where caves create cozy nests. and the Planning Commission and lead author of the study that re-examined the specimens in the Grand Canyon.
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Hodnett first encountered the fossil nearly 20 years ago, while an undergraduate student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, he told Live Science. A graduate student Hodnett worked with at the same time was identifying fossils from Rampart Cave, a small, low room west of the Grand Canyon that was carpeted with fossil bones and huge layers of fossils. Laziness go poop.
Among the cataloged fossils, some have been labeled as belonging to mountain lions. But Hodnett, who had studied American cheetah fossils from southern Arizona, realized that the bones were indeed those of cheetahs. Hodnett’s advisor arranged access to a handful of additional “mountain lion” bones from two other Grand Canyon caves: Next Door Cave in the center of the Grand Canyon and Stanton’s Cave in the east of the Grand Canyon. Hodnett found the bones turned out to be from an American leopard, not a mountain lion. There are some features in the bones, like the shape of the ankle structure, that can distinguish cheetahs from mountain lions, and some of their bones are different sizes, Hodnett said.
Battle with prehistoric cats
Busy with other studies and projects, Hodnett put this discovery aside for years without publishing what he had learned. But in 2019, he and his colleagues were working on an inventory of known fossils in Grand Canyon National Park, which prompted him to pull together and update his American cheetah study. me.
The bone from the Next Door Cave is the heel bone, while the Stanton Cave contains part of the foot with the nail sheath intact. The most intriguing find comes from Rampart Cave and represents two American cheetahs. Hodnett said one is a kitten – a teenage kitten – while the other is a kitten about six months old. This young man was attacked, with puncture wounds to his skull and spine the size of an adult cheetah’s teeth. These injuries can be fatal.
“You can see a very sharp puncture in the spine, and that can immediately debilitate the bat,” Hodnett said. “It doesn’t look good at all.”
It’s not clear if the two kittens in the cave are related, but some semi-mummified soft tissue still clings to the bones, so researchers were able to recover and analyze enough DNA to find out. that, Hodnett said. The injuries could have been the result of a war for territory, he added. Or perhaps a male cheetah was trying to kill another’s cubs, a behavior seen today in African lion.
Whatever it was, the discovery showed that the American cheetah was hunting outside in the grasslands. Leopard fossils found in caves often involve the bones of bighorn sheep and an extinct herbivore known as the Harrington mountain goat (Oreamnos harringtoni). This suggests that these cliff dwellers may have been prime prey for cheetahs.
“The discovery or re-identification of this classical fossil known as the ‘mountain lion’ gives us the idea that this particular species of extinct cat, Miracinonyxcould have been a bit more diverse in terms of its preferred ecosystem,” said Hodnett.
The findings were published in the May issue of New Mexico Science and Natural History Bulletin.
Originally published on Live Science.
https://www.livescience.com/american-cheetah-fossils-grand-canyon 20,000 years ago, two American cheetahs fought to the death in a Grand Canyon cave