Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive mass extinction
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.
|Microscopic image of the wear pattern on a fossil cougar tooth provides information|
about the what the animal ate in the last few weeks of its life
[Credit: Larisa DeSantis]
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.
|This is Larisa DeSantis at the La Brea Tar Pits studying the dental wear on|
fossil teeth of cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions
[Credit: Blaine Schubert]
"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."
Author: David Salisbury | Source: Vanderbilt University [April 22, 2014]