Endocranial Morphology of the Extinct North American Lion (Panthera atrox)

Cuff, A R and Stockey, C and Goswami, A (2017) Endocranial Morphology of the Extinct North American Lion (Panthera atrox). Brain Behaviour and Evolution, 88 (3-4). pp. 213-221.

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The extinct North American lion (Panthera atrox) is one of the largest felids (Mammalia, Carnivora) to have ever lived, and it is known from a plethora of incredibly well-preserved remains. Despite this abundance of material, there has been little research into its endocranial anatomy. CT scans of a skull of P. atrox from the Pleistocene La Brea Tar pits were used to generate the first virtual endocranium for this species and to elucidate previously unknown details of its brain size and gross structure, cranial nerves, and inner-ear morphology. Results show that its gross brain anatomy is broadly similar to that of other pantherines, although P. atrox displays less cephalic flexure than either extant lions or tigers, instead showing a brain shape that is reminiscent of earlier felids. Despite this unusual reduction in flexure, the estimated absolute brain size for this specimen is one of the largest reported for any felid, living or extinct. Its encephalization quotient (brain size as a fraction of the expected brain mass for a given body mass) is also larger than that of extant lions but similar to that of the other pantherines. The advent of CT scans has allowed nondestructive sampling of anatomy that cannot otherwise be studied in these extinct lions, leading to a more accurate reconstruction of endocranial morphology and its evolution.

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