Diverse diet helped cougars survive mass extinction

Cougars may have survived the mass extinction that occurred 12,000 years ago because they had a diverse diet, unlike the saber-tooth cat and American lion who both died off during the Late Pleistocene.

Larisa R.G. DeSantis, from Vanderbilt University, and Ryan Haupt, from the University of Wyoming, analysed the teeth of 50 fossil and modern cougars. They compared these with the teeth of excavated saber-tooth cats and American lions from the La Brea Tar Pits and the teeth of modern big-cats including cheetahs, lions and hyenas.

They found that the La Brea cougars showed greater variation in the wear patterns between individuals than other large cats, although some cougars did have similar patterns to more finicky eaters.

“This suggests that the Pleistocene cougars had a ‘more generalised’ dietary behaviour,” DeSantis said. “Specifically, they likely killed and often fully consumed their prey, more so than the large cats that went extinct.”

Read more at Vanderbilt University & University of Wyoming