Panthera blytheae: Scientists discover oldest ever big cat fossil
Snow leopard-like cat roamed the Tibetan plateau up to six million years ago
Scientists have discovered the oldest big cat fossil ever found, belonging to a previously unknown species and filling a major gap in our understanding of the animals’ evolution.
The near-complete skull, found in Tibet by a US-Chinese team and analysed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, has been dated between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old.
Despite an established body of molecular research suggesting the oldest big cats must have originated in Asia, the previous oldest fossil was unearthed in Tanzania, east Africa – dating from around 3.7 million years ago.
The new species, which has been named Panthera blytheae, is very closely related to the modern snow leopard, scientists say, and not a direct ancestor to other big cats like tigers, lions or jaguars.
The team had been hoping to find the great ancestor of all big cats. Instead, this find shows that the overall family tree must extend much further into the past.
The newest fossil had a broad forehead similar to snow leopards and its front teeth were heavily worn. It was small for a big cat — probably about the size of a clouded leopard, a cat found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia that can grow to 50 pounds (23 kilograms).
There's also good evidence that it lived in the Tibetan plateau, alongside ancient ancestors of familiar prey animals such as antelopes and sheep. With the skull found lying in such a fossil-rich region – a “bone bed” – scientists added that there could be even older big cat fossils there to uncover.
The study, led by Jack Tseng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was detailed in this week’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
The new cat species was named Panthera blytheae after Blythe Haaga, whose parents are significant donors to the LA Natural History Museum, and won the right in a naming auction. Dr Tseng was a graduate student at the University of Southern California and worked at the museum during the fossil discovery.
Palaeobiologist Dr Anjali Goswami of University College London called the cat skull a “magnificently preserved” and “very significant” find, which can help scientists learn more about modern snow leopards.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
- 1 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 2 Japanese plant experts produce 10,000 lettuce heads a day in LED-lit indoor farm
- 3 War is war: Why I stand with Israel
- 4 L'Oreal cuts ties with Belgium supporter Axelle Despiegelaere after hunting trip photographs
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Israel-Gaza conflict: Death toll tops 125 after overnight raids as Operation Protective Edge continues
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
Ian Thorpe gay: Olympic swimmer comes out in Parkinson interview
Supermoon 2014: When and why will the moon look bigger and brighter this summer?
Gaza-Israel conflict: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators take to streets of London, Paris and New York in wave of protests
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...
£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...
£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...
£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...