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Extinct American Cheetahs (Miracinonyx spp.) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

How Do We Know This?

Since direct observation of a fossil animal's behavior isn't possible, paleontologists use comparison and contrast with living animals for guidance. Tracks can sometimes reveal further clues. Associated animals and plants found at a fossil site suggest predator/prey dynamics and dietary options. Tooth wear studies may indicate eating habits.

Social Behavior


Modern cheetahs have unique social structure among cats: females are solitary and raise young, males form groups.

New reports of M. trumani fossils in the Grand Canyon may indicate different life style from cheetahs.


Most interpretations of this animal's gait compare it to the modern African cheetah (Turner & Anton 1997)

  • Very fast running in an open grassland habitat

A new discovery of this extinct cheetah (M. trumani) in a cave within Arizona's Grand Canyon

  • May have been adapted for rapid bounding up rocky slopes like the modern snow leopard (rather than high speed running) (Hodnett et al 2010)
  • Most common possible prey items in Grand Canyon: extinct mountain goat Oreamos harringtoni.

Interspecies Interactions

Found in western U.S. habitats with now-extinct mountain goats (Oreamos harringtoni) and mountain sheep

  • American cheetah may have filled an ecological role quite unlike that of modern cheetahs and may have instead pursued prey in steep rocky terrains as do Asian snow leopards. (Hodnett et al 2010)

Often found associated with jaguars and sabertooth cats (Smilodon) (Van Valkenburgh et al 1990)

  • Perhaps occupied ecological niches like modern leopards, cheetahs, and lions in Africa.

Page Citations

Hodnett et al (2010)
Shaw & Cox (2006)

Turner & Anton (1997)
Van Valkenburgh et al (1990)

SDZWA Library Links