Phonetic: Pan-fee-rah lee-oh foss-il-is.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae.
Species: P. leo fossilis.
Size: 2.4 meters long.
Known locations: Eurasia.
Time period: Pleistocene.
Fossil representation: Several specimens.
leo fossilis was one of the first big cats that would later
dubbed ‘cave lions’ in the popular media. Panthera leo
itself is considered to have been the ancestor to the more common
though slighter smaller Panthera
leo spelaea, better known as the
Eurasian cave lion. Interestingly though a population of Panthera
spelaea would become isolated in North America to become
leo atrox, popularly known as the American lion
cave lion, which would actually go on to grow slightly bigger than
Panthera leo fossilis. This indicates that lion
upper size is more
down to predatory requirements and the ecosystems ability to
support the body mass with viable prey, as opposed to a single linear
direction of increasing or decreasing size.
Descendants of Panthera leo fossilis seem to have been most suited to living in forested conditions where there was a greater abundance to prey like deer from huge species of Megaloceros to reindeer that still live today. It’s possible that Panthera leo fossilis may have shown similar niche partitioning as these animals would be close to the prey of their African cousins. Additionally the more open expanses of Eurasia during the Pleistocene were home to other fearsome predators like Homotherium and cave hyena that seemed to hunt in groups for large prey like woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos like Coelodonta. With predator competition so fierce in these areas, Panthera leo fossilis would have had an easier time living in the more overgrown forested where it only had to contend with wolves. Panthera leo fossilis is also considered to have been a hunter of early hominids, as evidenced by the presence of a Homo erectus jawbone found in association with a Panthera leo fossilis skull.
Like with many early species of cave lion, there is on-going debate as to whether Panthera leo fossilis should be treated as a sub species of Panthera leo (the modern day African lion) or be granted its own distinct species group to be called just Panthera fossilis. While the sub species definition seems to be the one that holds the most sway today, research into both theories is still periodically done.
- Two forms of cave lion: Middle Pleistocene Panthera spelaea fossilis Reichenau, 1906 and Upper Pleistocene Panthera spelaea spelaea Goldfuss, 1810 from the Bísnik Cave, Poland - Adrian Marciszak & Krzysztof Stefaniak - 2010.
- The hunted hunter: the capture of a lion (Panthera leo fossilis) at the Gran Dolina site, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain - Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 37, Issue 8 - Ruth Blasco, Jordi Rosella, Juan Luis ArsuagaJosé M. Bermúdez de Castrod, Eudald Carbonell - 2010.
- The first Asian record of Panthera (Leo) fossilis (von Reichenau, 1906) (Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae) in the Early Pleistocene of Western Siberia, Russia. - Marina V. Sotnikova & Irina V. Foronova - 2013.