American lion bones have been found in the trash heaps of paleolithic native Americans. Suggesting that human predation contributed to there extinction.

In this vast land, competing for food and territory. Cave lions never have it easy. panthera atrox means “cruel” or “fearsome panther” in latin. These critters were 125% the size of modern lions, making them one of the largest and most competitive of the known felids.    They differ from european cave lions, being discovered later, lasting longer and that the proposed subspecies scientist included are different. Would you mess with a 900lb cat?

Natchez, Mississippi origins

The first samples of the “cruel or fearsome panther” collected, were announced by the American philosophical society and William Henry Huntingtion Esquire. Although only manible and few molars,  on April 1, 1836. They were placed with Huntington’s collection in the academy of natural sciences in Philadelphia.   

Would you have come forward?

No major discoveries were published until 1853. When using samples from Livermore, California, Joseph Leidy was able to identify a greater skeleton. Ongoing, in 1907, more than 100 years after finding while mining, the American museum of Natural History and College announced they had found skeletons in Kotzebue, Alaska. Further south, in Rancho La Brea, California, a large ‘cruel or fearsome panther” skull was excavated and later described around 1909. So began the rush for pathera atrox, acl, or cruel fearsome panthers.

At least 80 ACL’s were pulled from La Brea tar pits

Throughout the early to mid 1900s, dozens of fossils of panthera atrox or “cruel fearsome panthers” were excavated at La Brea, including many post cranial elements. In 1932, these fossils were described by Merriam & Stock in detail, who completed many previously named taxa. A number of associated skeletons were also reviewed giving a comprehensive view of the taxon. Check out more blog entries here: smiloden, giant short faced bear.


Like modern lions, the ‘cruel fearsome pather or acl’ inhabited savannas and grasslands. In different circumstances American lions could have lived under cold climatic conditions. Especially those with shelters or caves, like where there was protection from the seasonalities: rain, snow, wind and cold conditions. It did not like forests like jaguars though. Scientists have imagined, given its size, it would have lined its den with sticks leaves and branches like some modern cats.


Lifespan was 340-11 thousand years ago. From nose to tail, the ‘acl or cruel fearsome panther’ were around 7 feet length, and 48 inches shoulder height. Smaller than smilodon (sabre tooth cat), and much smaller than the flat nose or bulldog bear. Most were around 550lbs, though some were 800, or even one specimen was recorded at 930lbs.

Though many pictures include orange, white, black, yellow, and brown. Skin from Argentine Patagonia indicate that the animal was reddish in color. Cave paintings from El Ceibo in Argentina seem to confirm this, and reduce greater confusion with jaguars. No matter the case, these critters are tough, and it appears humans eventually contributed to there decline. Though the end of the pleisocene epoch and beginning of the holocene was expected as the eventual contributor, 11,700 years ago to its decline. Witnessing mountain towns, it’s vindicated that modern mountain cats are still fearsome, many times stalking pedestrians and pets then disappearing altogether.


American lions were big and hungry. It was likely they preyed mostly on mammoths, bison, deer, horses, camels, tapirs, and smaller mammals. They were opportunistic, warm blooded killers. Defending themselves, for food and territory, American cave lions did whatever it took. They may have even attacked each other. No one ever said life was going to be easy.

American cave skeleton from La Brea tar pits

Bibliography: Leidy, Joseph (1853). “Description of an Extinct Species of American Lion: Felis atrox“. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 10: 319–322. doi:10.2307/1005282. JSTOR 1005282.

American Lions – White Sands National Park (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.).

Harington, C. R. (1969). “Pleistocene remains of the lion-like cat (Panthera atrox) from the Yukon Territory and northern Alaska”. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 6 (5): 1277–1288. Bibcode:1969CaJES…6.1277H. doi:10.1139/e69-127

Simpson, G. G. (1941). Large Pleistocene felines of North America. American Museum novitates; no. 1136.

Merriam, J. C. & Stock, C. 1932: The Felidae of Rancho La Brea. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publications 442, 1–231.
Harrington, C. R. (March 1996). “American Lion” (PDF). Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-30. Retrieved Feb 2021

Turner, Alan; Anton, Mauricio (1997). The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives.

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