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Extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox) Fact Sheet: Summary

extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox)

Archived Content

Disclaimer: Fact sheets on prehistoric (extinct) species contain archived content and are no longer being updated. At the time of publication, these pages summarized the best available science. However, some content may become outdated as scientists report new discoveries.

Extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox) Fact Sheet

Extinct American Lion

Extinct American Lion, Panthera atrox

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae (lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, cougar, cheetah, lynx, caracal, domestic cat and many fossil taxa)

Genus: Panthera

Species: Panthera atrox - American lion (extinct)

Body Weight*
Large male up to 235 kg (518 lb)
Large female up to 175 kg (386 lb)
*estimated to be 25% larger than modern lions

Body Length
1.6-2.5 m (5.3-8.2 ft)

Tail Length
0.5-0.8 m (1.7-2.7 ft)

Coloration and pattern unknown. Thought to have no mane.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

During Pleistocene: Alaska to Peru, but was absent in northeastern Canada and U.S. and southern Florida

Open habitats, grasslands; probably occupied steppe tundra and mountain conifer/grasslands ecosystems

Went extinct around 13,000 years ago

Slender, but powerful legs for moving through open country

Social Groups
Assumed to be social because of skeletal differences between sexes, but also evidence of solitary hunting or hunting by pairs (not prides).

Carnivorous. Probably fed on horses and deer, camels, ground sloths, young mammoths, and bison in North America.
Juvenile P. atrox fed on adults' kills.

No known predators, except for Paleolithic humans

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Feature Facts

  • No other mammal (except for humans) has had such a wide geographical distribution as the extinct lions in the Panthera lineage
  • atrox means "cruel" or "frightful" in Latin
  • Competed with other large carnivores of the time, like sabertooth cats and giant bears
  • The last North American lions became extinct around 13,000 years ago, along with mammoths and many other large mammals
  • Painted by Paleolithic artists

About This Fact Sheet

© 2009 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance


How to cite: Extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox) Fact Sheet. c2008. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. extinctamericanlion
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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