Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The cave lion, also known as the European or Eurasian cave lion, is an extinct feline known from fossils and a wide variety of prehistoric art. It is the largest cat that ever existed, and was about 25% larger than the modern African lion.
The cave lion averaged 3.5 m (11.5 ft) in length, with a male weighing about 235 kg (520 lb), and a typical female weighing 175 kg (385 lb). The Siberian tiger and the Smilodon (which was the largest of the stocky saber-toothed cats) are both smaller. It was comparable in size to both its close relative the American lion, and the modern liger, which is an sterile hybrid that probably never occurs without human interference. They were still smaller than their contemporary, the carnivorous cave bear.
The cave lion lived from 300,000 to 10,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. It apparently went extinct about 10,000 years ago, during the Wisconsin glaciation, though there are some indications it may have existed as recently as 2,000 years ago, in the Balkans. It ranged across Europe and Asia, from England all the way to Siberia. Its habitat was the steppes in the north, and the semi-arid deserts in the south.
It is known from Paleolithic cave paintings, ivory carvings, and clay busts. These representations indicate that cave lions had protruding ears, tufted tails, faint tiger-like stripes, and that at least some males had a "ruff" or primitive mane around their neck. Other artifacts indicate that they played a role in Paleolithic religions.
They likely preyed on the large, herbivorous animals of their time, including primitive horses. Their extinction may have been related to the Holocene extinction event, which wiped out most of their megafauna prey. Cave paintings and remains found in the refuse piles of ancient camp sites indicate that they were hunted by early humans, which may have also contributed to their demise.
It is normally considered a subspecies of lion, with the scientific name of Panthera leo spelaea (which means "cave lion" in Latin); but it is occasionally considered a species in its own right, under the name Panthera spelaea. At least one authority, based on a comparison of skull shapes, considers the cave lion to be more closely related to the tiger, which would result in the formal name Panthera tigris spelaea (Groiss, 1996).
The earliest lion was the European "jaguar" Panthera gombaszoegensis , which lived about 1.5 million years ago; remains have been found in both Italy and Germany. More immediate ancestors are the Panthera leo fossilis from the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, a primitive lion with tiger characteristics, that first appeared about 500,000 years ago; and the Panthera youngi from Choukoutien, China, which lived about 350,000 years ago, and is apparently an ancestor of both the cave lion and the American lion.
- Prehistoric cats and prehistoric cat-like creatures, from the Messybeast Cat Resource Archive.
- American lion, by C. R. Harrington, from Yukon Beringia Interpretative Center.
- The mammoth and the flood, volume 5, chapter 1, by Hans Krause.
- Hoyle and cavetigers, from the Dinosaur Mailing List. (Groiss)
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