Wednesday, September 5, 2012

American Cheetah

Miracinonyx trumani
The American Cheetah is a cat surrounded in taxonomic controversy. Are they Cheetahs? Are they Pumas? Are they both? Unfortunately, the two species, M. inexpectatus and M. trumani, are known only from fragmentary fossils, so until more turns up it will be difficult to know for sure!

What we do know is that the two species lived in North America during the Pleistocene, from around 3 million to 10,000 years ago. They had characteristics that were very similar to modern Cheetahs (who themselves are taxonomically distinct from all other extant cats). Flat faces, short nasal cavities, flexible backs, and long legs are all similarities between the modern and extinct cats.

However, those similarities might just be due to a case of convergent evolution. There is some evidence to suggest that these Cats are actually relatives of Pumas and Cougers, not Cheetahs. They may have just evolved in the same way as the Cheetah, due to the fact that they lived in the same open plains and hunted the same type of prey. Interestingly, there is a theory that Pronghorn Antelopes, some of the fastest land animals alive, evolved their speed directly as a response to the fast American Cheetahs that hunted them!

There will continue to be questions about the American Cheetahs until we uncover more fossils and information. It may even come to pass that the two species are split up from one another-- M. trumani, for example, is more Cheetah-like than M. inexpectatus.

Status : Extinct for around 10,000 years
Location : North America
Size :  Body length up to 67in (1.7m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Felidae -- Genus : Miracinonyx

1 comment:

  1. Actually, cheetahs evolved from pumas, so I believe that they split off in North America, then the Old World genus migrated across.


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