Quirks & Quarks

Why Finicky Cats Went Extinct

Cougars survived Ice Age extinction, while American lions and sabre-toothed cats didn't - possibly because of their diet....

Cougars survived Ice Age extinction, while American lions and sabre-toothed cats didn't - possibly because of their diet.

At the end of the last Ice Age, the giant cats of North America included huge American lions, sabre-toothed cats and cougars. But only the cougars survived the large-animal extinction more than 10,000 years ago. Dr. Larisa DeSantis, a paleontologist in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, thinks that the reason the cougar survived was that the other cats were fussy eaters. By studying marks on the teeth of cats buried in the La Brea tar pits in California, she was able to reconstruct their diets. American lions and sabre-tooths were relatively finicky eaters that preferred soft flesh. Cougars, on the other hand, were generalists that hunted, but also scavenged, and ate bone or anything else they could. This more generalist diet probably helped them make it through the extinction.

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