Panthera atrox (Leidy, 1853)

American lion



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Felis atrox Leidy, 1853 (original combination); Felis imperialis Leidy, 1853; Felis atrox bebbi Merriam, 1909; Felis atrox alaskensis Frick, 1930; Panthera jaguarius atrox Leidy, 1853; Panthera leo atrox Leidy, 1853


Conservation Status


Last record: Late Pleistocene


There have been numerous reports of lions or lion-like animals in America during the 20th century (Coleman, 1971; Bord & Bord, 1989:231-232). And cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has hypothesized that these may refer to surviving individuals of the American lion ([i]Panthera atrox[/i]) (Coleman, 1983:106-116). However, [i]P. atrox[/i] is probably more closely related to the Jaguar ([i]P. onca[/i]) than to the [i]bona fide[/i] Afro-Eurasian lions ([i]P. leo[/i] ssp.).



The Americas (North, Central and South America)


Remains of Panthera from South America have been known since the late 19th century, however they were only recognised as belonging to the American 'lion' extremely recently (Chimento & Agnolin, In Press). It may have had reddish skin (Ibid.).


Biology & Ecology










Original scientific description:

Leidy, J. (1853). Description of an extinct species of American lion: Felis atrox. Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc., N.S., 10: 319-321.


Other references:

Ackerman, R. E. (ed.). (1996). Bluefish Caves, pp. 5-11-513. In: West, F. H. (ed.). American Beginnings: The Prehistory and Palaeoecology of Beringia. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Barnett, Ross, Shapiro B., Barnes I.A.N., Ho S.Y.W., Burger J., Yamaguchi N., Higham T.F.G., Wheeler H.T., Rosendahl W., Sher A.V., et al. (2009). Phylogeography of lions (Panthera leo ssp.) reveals three distinct taxa and a late Pleistocene reduction in genetic diversity. Molecular Ecology 18(8): 1668-1677.

Beebe, B. F. and Hulland, T. J. (1988). Mandibular and dental abnormalities of two Pleistocene American lions (Panthera leo atrox) from Yukon Territory. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 52: 468-472.

Bord, Janet and Bord, Colin. (1989). Modern Mysteries of the World: Strange Events of the 20th Century. Guild Publishing. 432 pp.

Bravo-Cuevas, Victor Manuel et al. (2016). First occurrence of Panthera atrox (Felidae, Pantherinae) in the Mexican state of Hidalgo and a review of the record of felids from the Pleistocene of Mexico. Fossil Record 19: 131-141.

Bravo-Cuevas, Victor Manuel and Jiménez-Hidalgo, Eduardo. (2018). Advances on the Paleobiology of Late Pleistocene mammals from central and southern Mexico, pp. 277-313. In: Huard, Gaeten and Gareau, Jeannine (eds.). The Pleistocene: Geography, Geology, and Fauna. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Carbot-Chanona, Gerardo and Gómez-Pérez, Luis Enrique. (2014). Nueva evidencia de Panthera atrox (Mammalia, Felidae) en elPleistoceno Tardío de Chiapas. Lacandonia (8) 8(2): 83-89.

Carlon, Burcu. (2014). Functional limb morphology of extinct carnivores Smilodon fatalis, Panthera atrox, and Canis dirus based on comparisons with four extant felids and one extant canid. Ph.D thesis, Northern Illinois University. [Abstract]

Chimento, Nicolás R. and Agnolin, Federico L. (In Press, 2017). The fossil American lion (Panthera atrox) in South America: Palaeobiogeographical implications / Le lion américain fossile (Panthera atrox) en Amérique du Sud : implications paléobiogéographiques. Comptes Rendus Palevol. [Abstract]

Christiansen, P. and Harris, J. M. (2009). Craniomandibular morphology and phylogenetic affinities of Panthera atrox: implications for the evolution and paleobiology of the lion lineage. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(3): 934-945. [Abstract]

Churcher, C. S. (2019). Pleistocene Mammals From Extinction Cave, Belize. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. doi: [Abstract]

Colbert, E. H. 1950. The fossil vertebrates. Pp. 126-148 in The stratigraphy and archaeology of Ventana Cave. University of Arizona Press and University of New Mexico Press, Tucson and Albuquerque.

Coleman, Loren. (1971). Mystery Animals in Illinois. Fate 1971(July):13-18.

Coleman, Loren. (1983). Mysterious America. Boston and London: Faber & Faber. [chapter 12, p. 106-116]

Coleman, Loren. (1979). Maned Mystery Cats. Fortean Times 30: 47-50.

Coleman, Loren. (1980a). Maned Mystery Cats. Fortean Times 31: 24-27.

Coleman, Loren. (1980b). An Answer from the Pleistocene. Fortean Times 32: 21-22.

Coleman, Loren. (1996). Roaring at the Mane Event. Fortean Times 92: 40.

Coleman, Loren. (2001). Mysterious America, rev. ed. New York: Paraview. [pp. 127-159]

Coleman, Loren. (2007). Maned Mystery Cats and Panthera atrox. In: Heinselmann, Craig (ed.). Elementum Bestia: Being an Examination of Unknown Animals of the Air, Earth, Fire and Water. CRYPTO. 265 pp.

Cuff, Andrew R., Goswami, Anjali, and Hutchinson, John R. (2017). Reconstruction of the musculoskeletal system in an extinct lion. Palaeontologia Electronica 20.2.23A: 1-25.

Cuff Andrew R., Stockey, C. and Goswami, Anjali. (In Press, 2017). Endocranial Morphology of the Extinct North American Lion (Panthera atrox). Brain Behav. Evol. DOI:10.1159/000454705 [Abstract]

DeSantis, Larisa R. G., Schubert, Blaine W., Schmitt-Linville, Elizabeth, Ungar, Peter S., Donohue, Shelly L. and Haupt, Ryan J. (2015). Dental Microwear Textures of Carnivorans from the La Brea Tar Pits, California, and Potential Extinction Implications, pp. 37-52. In: Harris, John M. (ed.). La Brea and Beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas. Los Angeles, California: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Science Series No. 42. 174 pp.

DeSantis, L .R. G., B. W.Schubert, J. R. Scott, and P. S. Ungar. (2012). Implications of diet for the extinction of saber-toothed cats and American lions. PLoS ONE 7(12):e52453.

Deutsch, Ashley R. et al. (2023). The roar of Rancho La Brea? Comparative anatomy of modern and fossil felid hyoid bonesThe roar of Rancho La Brea? Comparative anatomy of modern and fossil felid hyoid bones. J. Morphol. 284: e21627.

Dickinson, Edwin et al. (2022). A morphological analysis of Carnivoran ossicles from Rancho La Brea. Journal of Morphology.

Faunmap working group. 1994 FAUNMAP: a database documenting late Quaternary distributions of mammal species in the United States. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers 25(1-2), 1-690.

Ferrusquía-Villafranca I., Arroyo-Cabrales J., Martínez-Hernández E., Gama-Castro J., Ruiz-González J., Polaco O.J., Johnson E. 2010 Pleistocene mammals of Mexico: A critical review of regional chronofaunas, climate change response and biogeographic provinciality. Quaternary International 217(1–2), 53-104.

Ghezzo, Elena. (2018). Evolution and presence of genus Panthera in the Pleistocene of Europe, pp. 237-275. In: Huard, Gaeten and Gareau, Jeannine (eds.). The Pleistocene: Geography, Geology, and Fauna. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Graham, R.W., Farlow, J.O., and Vandike, J.E., 1996, Tracking ice age felids: Identification of Panthera atrox from a cave in southern Missouri, U.S.A., in Stewart, K.M. and Seymour, K.L., eds., Palaeoecology and Palaeoenvironments of Late Cenozoic Mammals: Toronto, University of Toronto Press, p. 331-345.

Hall, Mark A. (1994). The American Lion (Panthera atrox). Wonders 3(1): 3-20.

Harington, C. R. (1969). Pleistocene remains of the lion-like cat (Panthera atrox) from the Yukon Territory and northern Alaska. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 6: 1277-1288.

Harington, C. R. (1971). A Pleistocene lion-like cat (Panthera atrox) from Alberta. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 8: 170-174.

Harris, Arthur H. (1993). Quaternary vertebrates of New Mexico, pp. 179-197. In: Vertebrate Paleontology in New Mexico, New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Bulletin 2:i-vii, 1-338.

Hibbard, Claude W. and Taylor, Dwight W. (1960). Two late Pleistocene faunas from southwestern Kansas. Contributions from the Museum of Paleontology, The University of Michigan 16(1): 1-223 pp., 16 pls., 18 figs.

Jefferson, G. T. 1991. A catalogue of Late Quaternary vertebrates from California. Part two: Mammals. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Technical Reports 7:1-129.

Jefferson, G. T., H. G. McDonald, and S. D. Livington. 2015. Catalogue of late Quaternary and Holocene fossil vertebrates from Nevada. Nevada State Museum, Occasional Papers no. 6a:iv + 86.

King, Leigha M. and Wallace, Steven C. (2014). Phylogenetics of Panthera, including Panthera atrox, based on craniodental characters. Historical Biology 26(6): 827-833. [Abstract]

Kottkamp, Scott et al. (2022). Pleistocene vertebrates from Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. In: Morgan et al. (eds.). Late Cenozoic Vertebrate Paleontology: Tribute to Arthur H. Harris. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 88: 267-290.

Kurtén, Bjorn. (1965). The Pleistocene Felidae of Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 9(6): 215-273.

Kurtén, B. 1973. Pleistocene jaguars in North America. Commentationes Biologicae 62:1-23.

Kurtén, Bjorn and Anderson, E. (1980). Pleistocene mammals of North America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Logan, L. E. 1981. The mammalian fossils of Muskox Cave, Eddy County, New Mexico. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress Speleology 1:159-160.

Long K, Prothero D, Madan M, Syverson VJP (2017) Did saber-tooth kittens grow up musclebound? A study of postnatal limb bone allometry in felids from the Pleistocene of Rancho La Brea. PLoS ONE12(9): e0183175.

Martin, L. D. and B. M. Gilbert. (1978). An American lion, Panthera atrox, from Natural Trap Cave, north central Wyoming. University of Wyoming, Contributions to Geology 16(2): 95-101. [First page preview]

Mawby, J.E., 1967, Fossil vertebrates of the Tule Springs site, Ne-vada, in Wormington, H.M., and Ellis, D., editors, Pleistocene studies in southern Nevada: Nevada State Museum Anthropo-logical Papers No. 13: 105-128.

Meachen-Samuels J, Binder WJ (2010) Sexual dimorphism and ontogenetic growth in the American lion and sabertoothed cat from Ranho La Brea. J Zool Lond 280: 271-279.

Mead, J. I., N. J. Czaplewski, and L. D. Agenbroad. 2005. Rancholabrean (Late Pleistocene) mammals and localities of Arizona. Pp. 139-180, in (R. D. McCord, ed.) Vertebrate Paleontology of Arizona, Mesa Southwest Museum Bulletin No. 11.

Merriam, J. C. 1909. The skull and dentition of an extinct cat closely allied to Felis atrox Leidy. Bulletin of the Department of Geology, University of California 5: 291-304.

Merriam, J. C. and Stock, Chester. (1932). The Felidae of Rancho La Brea. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication no. 422:xvi + 231 pp., 42 pls.

Montellano-Ballesteros, Marisol and Carbot-Chanona, Gerardo. (2009). Panthera leo atrox (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) in Chiapas, Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist 54(2): 217-222. [Abstract]

Morgan, G. S., and S. G. Lucas. 2005. Pleistocene vertebrate faunas in New Mexico from alluvial, fluvial, and lacustrine deposits. Pp. 185-248, in New Mexico's Ice Ages (Lucas, S. G., G. S. Morgan, and K. E. Zeigler, eds.). New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 28:1-280.

O'Keefe, F. Robin et al. (2023). Pre–Younger Dryas megafaunal extirpation at Rancho La Brea linked to fire-driven state shift. Science 381(6659): eabo3594.

Pérez-Pérez, Alexis et al. (2021). Population dynamics of Equus conversidens (Perissodactyla, Equidae) from the late Pleistocene of Hidalgo (central Mexico): Comparison with extant and fossil equid populations. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 106: 103100. [Abstract]

Raymond, Kristina R. and Prothero, Donald R. (2010). Comparative variability of intermembranous and endochondral bones in Pleistocene mammals. Palaeontologia Electronica 13.1.4A.

Reynolds, Ashley R., Seymour, Kevin L. and Evans, David C. (2019). Late Pleistocene records of felids from Medicine Hat, Alberta, including the first Canadian record of the sabre-toothed cat [i]Smilodon fatalis[/i]. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 56(10): 1052-1060. [Abstract]

Sabol, Martin, Tomašových, Adam and Gullár, Juraj. (2022). Geographic and temporal variability in Pleistocene lion-like felids: Implications for their evolution and taxonomy. Palaeontologia Electronica 25(2): a26.

Schultz, J. R. (1937). A Late Quaternary mammal fauna from the tar seeps of McKittrick, California. Ph.D. thesis, California Institute of Technology, 202 pp + 2 plates.

Scott, Eric, Springer, Kathleen B. and Sagebiel, James C. (2017). The Tule Springs local fauna: Rancholabrean vertebrates from the Las Vegas Formation, Nevada. Quaternary International 443(A): 105-121. [Abstract]

Seymour, Kevin L. (2015). Perusing Talara: Overview of the Late Pleistocene Fossils from the Tar Seeps of Peru, pp. 97-109. In: Harris, John M. (ed.). La Brea and Beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas. Los Angeles, California: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Science Series No. 42. 174 pp.

Shuker, Karl. (1989). Mystery Cats of the World. London: Robert Hale. [pp. 166-172]

Simpson, George Gaylord. (1941). Large Pleistocene felines of North America. American Museum Novitates 1136: 1-27.

Smith F.A., Lyons S.K., Ernest S.K.M., Jones K.E., Kaufman D.M., Dayan T., Marquet P.A., Brown J.H., Haskell J.P. 2003 Body mass of late Quaternary mammals. Ecology 84(12), 3403-3403.

Springer, K., E. Scott, C. Sagebiel, and L. K. Murray. 2009. The Diamond Valley Lake local fauna: Late Pleistocene vertebrates from inland southern California. Pp. 217-235, in Papers on geology, vertebrate paleontology, and biostratigraphy in honor of Michael O. Woodburne (L. G. Albright, III, ed.). Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 65, Flagstaff, Arizona.

Stock, C., and J. M. Harris. 1992. Rancho la Brea: A record of Pleistocene life in California. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Science Series no. 37, 7th ed.: i-xiv + 1-113.

Van Valkenburgh, B. (2009). Costs of carnivory: Tooth fracture in Pleistocene and Recent carnivorans. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 96: 68-81.

Wheeler, H. T. and G. Jefferson. 2003. Fossil evidence of social behavior at Rancho La Brea by Panthera atrox between 14 and 11 kyr BP. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 23/(supplement. 3):109.

Wheeler, H. Todd and Jefferson, G. T. (2009). Panthera Atrox: Body Proportions, Size, Sexual Dimorphism, and Behaviour of the Cursorial Lion of the North American Plains. In Papers on Geology, Vertebrate Paleontology and Biostratigraphy in Honor of Michael O. Woodburne, edited by L. B. Albright III. Flagstaff, Arizona: Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin.

Whitmore Jr, F. C. and H. L. Foster. 1967. Panthera atrox (Mammalia: Felidae) from central Alaska. Journal of Paleontology 41:247–251.

Wilson, R. W. 1933. Pleistocene mammalian fauna from the Carpinteria asphalt. Carnegie Institute of Washington, Publication 440:60-76.

Wroe, Stephen and Milne, Nicholas. (2007). Convergence and remarkably consistent constraint in the evolution of carnivore skull shape. Evolution 61(5): 1251-1260.


<< Back to the Carnivora database