Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion

Date:
April 22, 2014
Source:
Vanderbilt University
Summary:
Cougars may have survived the mass extinction that took place about 12,000 years ago because they were not particular about what they ate, unlike their more finicky cousins the saber-tooth cat and American lion who perished, according a new analysis of the microscopic wear marks on the teeth of fossil cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions.

Larisa DeSantis studying the teeth of extinct saber-tooth cats, American lions and cougars at La Brea Tar Pits.
Credit: Blaine Schubert

Cougars may have survived the mass extinction that took place about 12,000 years ago because they were not particular about what they ate, unlike their more finicky cousins -- the saber-tooth cat and American lion. Both perished along with the woolly mammoth and many of the other supersized mammals that walked Earth during the late Pleistocene.

That is the conclusion of a new analysis of the microscopic wear marks on the teeth of cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions described in the April 23 issue of the journal Biology Letters.

"Before the Late Pleistocene extinction six species of large cats roamed the plains and forests of North America. Only two -- the cougar and jaguar -- survived. The goal of our study was to examine the possibility that dietary factors can explain the cougar's survival," said Larisa R.G. DeSantis, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, who co-authored the study with Ryan Haupt at the University of Wyoming.

For their investigation, DeSantis and Haupt employed a new technique called dental microwear texture analysis. DMTA uses a confocal microscope to produce a three-dimensional image of the surface of a tooth. The image is then analyzed for microscopic wear patterns. The analysis of the teeth of modern carnivores, including hyenas, cheetahs and lions has established that the meals an animal consumes during the last few weeks of its life leave telltale marks. Chowing down on red meat, for example, produces small parallel scratches while chomping on bones adds larger, deeper pits. The researchers analyzed the teeth of 50 fossil and modern cougars, and compared them with the teeth of saber-tooth cats and American lions excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the teeth of modern African carnivores including cheetahs, lions and hyenas.

Previously, DeSantis and others found that the dental wear patterns of the extinct American lions closely resembled those of modern cheetahs, which are extremely finicky eaters that mostly consume tender meat and rarely gnaw on bones. Saber-tooth cats were instead similar to African lions and chewed on both flesh and bone.

Among the La Brea cougars the researchers found significantly greater variation between individuals than they did in the other large cats, including saber-toothed cats. Some of the cougars show wear patterns similar to those of the finicky eaters but on others they found wear patterns closer to those of modern hyenas, which consume almost the entire body of their prey, bones included.

"This suggests that the Pleistocene cougars had a 'more generalized' dietary behavior," DeSantis said. "Specifically, they likely killed and often fully consumed their prey, more so than the large cats that went extinct." This is consistent with the dietary behavior and dental wear patterns of modern cougars, which are opportunistic predators and scavengers of abandoned carrion and fully consume the carcasses of small and medium-sized prey, a "variable dietary behavior that may have actually been a key to their survival."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University. The original article was written by David Salisbury. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Vanderbilt University. "Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140422202047.htm>.
Vanderbilt University. (2014, April 22). Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140422202047.htm
Vanderbilt University. "Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140422202047.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins