One more instance of fossil evidence corroborating DNA findings can be added to the accomplishments of paleontologists.

In 2010, Paleontologist Jack Tseng from the American Museum of Natural History was digging for fossils around the Pakistani-Chinese border and came across a plethora of fossils. Most belonged to a long-dead antelope, but a peculiar crushed skull was also amidst the fossil treasures – the skull of which turned out to be a new species of ancient big cat, described November 13th in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

This never-before discovered species has been dubbed Panthera blytheae, so named after the daughter Blythe, of a couple who actively backs the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County .

P. blytheae was a Tibetan snow leopard clocking in at between 6 and 4 million years old. The location of P. blytheae indicates that big cats originated in Asia, followed by a number of speciation events that spread these animals around the world.


The Panthera byltheae fossil skull had been crushed over millions of years, but was almost complete and was able to show important findings about big cats to Tseng and his colleagues.

DNA evidence has consistently shown that the subfamily Pantherinae, known colloquially as the “big cats” and consisting of lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards; diverged from the subfamily Felinae, including cougars, lynxes, and domestic cats; about 6.4 million years ago. But fossil evidence to back up this fact hadn’t been discovered until Tseng’s finding – the oldest big cat fossil yet was 3.6 million years old. P. blytheae confirmed what the DNA evidence had exhibited all along.

Source: Tseng, Z. J., Wang, X., Slater, G. J., Takeuchi, G. T., Li, Q., Liu, J., & Xie, G. (2014). Himalayan fossils of the oldest known pantherine establish ancient origin of big cats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1774). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2686

The Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, New York, is pleased to sponsor Paleontology content for This View of Life. Founded in 1932, PRI has outstanding programs in research, collections, and publications, and is a national leader in development of informal Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.

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Published On: November 26, 2013

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