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Around 13,000 years ago, as the last Ice Age was drawing to a close, a variety of large cats inhabited North and South America. These included the now-extinct sabretooths (Smilodon and Homotherium), the American lion-like cat (Panthera atrox), and the cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx trumani). Of the big cats, only the puma (Puma concolor) and jaguar (Panthera onca) survive in the Americas today. Contrary to a popular misconception, none of the sabretooth cats was ever a tiger.
Researchers have employed computer modeling to create an updated family tree for the ancient cats. They compared DNA from modern cat-family species with 13,000 year old DNA extracted from the preserved bones of two sabretooths and the American cheetah-like cat with DNA from modern cat-family and other carnivore species. The American cheetah-like cat and the true cheetah show remarkable developmental similarity (including elongated limbs and enlarged nostrils), genetic data indicates that this similarity is an example of parallel evolution – the development of similar bodies in response to similar ecological pressures.
Big Cat Slideshows. Cougar . Cougar carrying Cub . Cooper's Rock Mountain Lion Sanctuary . Jaguar . Walking with Beasts . More sabretooths Scimitar cat Homotherium serum . Dinobastis serus skeleton . Dinobastis serus skull . Friesenhahn Cave . Panthera atrox skull . La Brea asphalt pits, CA .