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Extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox)

How Do We Know This?

Clues to fossil mammals' diets come from teeth, skull shape and the positions and strength of major jaw muscles, from fossilized dung and guts, from oxygen isotopes in bone and teeth, and from diets of similar modern animals.


  • Probably fed on horses and deer, camels, ground sloths, young mammoths, and bison in North America.
    • These animals are size equivalents of prey for lions in the wild today.
    • Claw and tooth marks on a mummified steppe bison's skin indicate P. atrox killed with techniques like modern lions (Guthrie 1990)


  • All cats, from lions to house cats are hyper-carnivores, with teeth suited for a diet of meat and nothing else.
    • Have no molars specialized for chewing their food like dogs or bears.
  • Jaws, like those of modern lions, could kill by closing around the throat or muzzle of their prey (Owen 2002) (Therrien 2005)
  • Extinct American lions' jaws concentrated their forces at the canine teeth (Therrien 2005)
    • Strength of bite greater than that of modern lions
    • Strong incisor teeth in front of jaw could strip flesh from bone
    • Carnassial teeth in rear used to slice flesh, not chew bone
  • Panthera atrox's long legs were ideal for pursuit of prey (Martin and Klein 1984)
  • Tooth fracture frequencies of P. atroxsuggest to paleontologists that competition was fierce with other predators for prey (Van Valkenburgh & Hertel 1993)
    • Extinct lions may have consumed more of their carcasses' bony parts due to this competition.

Page Citations

Guthrie (1990)
Martin & Klein (1984)
(Owen (2002)
Therrien (2005)
Van Valkenburgh and Hertel (1993)

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