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Extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

extinct American Lion (Panthera atrox)

How Do We Know This?

Paleontologists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate tectonic movements, ancient ecosystems, and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil distribution patterns and ancient habitats.


  • No other mammal (with the exception of humans today) has ever had such a wide distribution as the extinct lions in the Panthera lineage. (Kurtén 1968)
    • During the Pleistocene Epoch which ended about 11,500 years ago, lions occupied most of Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and northern South America
    • Panthera atrox, the extinct American Lion, ranged from Alaska to Peru but was absent in northeastern Canada and U.S. and southern Florida
    • P. atrox fossils found in U.S. states of California, Texas, Idaho, Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, and northern Florida
  • Large concentration of Panthera atrox fossils discovered at Rancho La Brea's asphalt deposits in Los Angeles
    • Over 80 individuals trapped as they sought prey animals stuck in pools of tar (Jefferson 2001)
    • Many other species of extinct predators, including Smilodon fatalis were trapped along with P. atrox


  • Seems to have occupied open country rather than forests
    • Evolution of the Panthera cats coincides with evolution of open grassland plant communities of C-4 plants (Barry 1987) (Cerling et al 1998)
    • Adaptation to open country may have allowed lions over time to move into North America from Asia across treeless expanses of tundra
    • Slender but powerful legs of this great lion aided pursuit in open country
  • P. atrox probably occupied steppe tundra and mountain conifer/grasslands ecosystems (Gilbert & Martin 1984) .
    • Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming and other sites with P. atrox fossils had associated fossils of animals that still live in steppe tundra and mountain grassland habitats today

Page Citations

Barry (1987)
Cerling et al. (1998)
Gilbert and Martin (1984)
Jefferson (2001)
Kurtén (1968)

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