The cave lion was a formidable predator of the Pleistocene. These giant cats inhabited many parts of the world, living in both warm and cold climates. For a long time they held the position of the most dangerous predators, due to which they were captured by ancient people in rock paintings. The reasons why these animals became extinct are still not known for certain, although scientists put forward a variety of versions.
Origin of the species and description
The cave lion is the largest member of the cat family of all existing members of the family. It is considered a separate species of modern lions, while now African lions are the only representatives of their kind. Cave lions died out about 10 thousand years ago, which is relatively small, so the question of the reasons for its extinction remains open. This animal was first discovered by Georg Goldfuss, a German physician. He found the skull of a cave lion in the Franconian Alba.
There is some confusion about the identification of the cave lion as a species. It is often referred to as the “Mosbach lion”, although these animals lived much later. It is possible that cave lions are descended from Mosbach lions, since their physiological features and habitats overlap in many ways.
Video: Cave lion
Interesting fact: There is also a version that Mosbach lions and cave lions could interbreed.
Because of their huge habitat the cave lion even acquired subspecies. For example, the East Siberian cave lion stands out, which migrated along the land connection between Alaska and Chukotka. So the East Siberian subspecies ended up on the American continent, where it later developed into the American lion.
Cave lions died out extremely unevenly, which is why the physiology of their remains, habitat, and even lifestyle characteristics may vary depending on the period in which the animal died. Evolutionarily, cave lions were among the first felines to reach the top of the food chain in many geographic regions.
Appearance and Features
Cave lions were very large cats – the largest of all that once existed. Some individuals easily overtake in size a liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger, which is now the largest member of the living cat family. An adult male could reach a height of one and a half meters at the withers, and the length of his body, excluding the tail, was more than two meters. This can be compared to a very large modern lion, although there were individuals much larger.
Interesting fact: Scientists have established that, on average, cave lions were about ten percent larger than modern African lions.< br />
In terms of size, only the Mosbach lion could be compared with the cave lion, but some individuals could be inferior in the height of the withers. Thanks to the rock paintings, we can draw conclusions about the appearance of cave lions – their color and the presence or absence of a mane. In ancient drawings, cave lions are depicted exclusively without a mane, therefore, all cave lions did not have manes, or it was relatively small. Also in the drawings you can see the tassel at the end of the tail, characteristic of modern lions.
The color of the cave lions in the drawings is monochromatic, pale red – we can conclude that the cave lions did not have distinctive spots and stripes, which also makes them related to modern lions. Lion cubs did not differ in size from the cubs of modern lions. This conclusion was drawn from another find: a frozen cave lion was found in Yakutia at the age of several months, which almost did not differ from modern lion cubs.
Now you know what a cave lion looked like. Let's see where he lived.
Where did the cave lion live?
A cave lion lived throughout Europe and northern regions of Asia. The size of the cave lion also varied depending on the habitat. For example, the largest representatives of this species lived in northeast Asia.
In general, depending on the habitat, conditional subspecies of cave lions were distinguished:
- Bering cave lion lived in the eastern part of Siberia, perfectly adapted to adverse climatic conditions;
- the American lion broke away from the Peruvian subspecies, although according to one version it is just a migrating East Siberian subspecies;
- in the classical sense, the Eurasian cave lion lived in the central parts of Europe, which was one of the largest subspecies of this animal.
Across the frozen Bering Strait, cave lions reached Peru, where the Peruvian subspecies of the cave lion stands out;
An interesting fact: the Eurasian subspecies lived in Europe until the end first millennium BC. This does not rule out that such lions could have participated in gladiator fights in the arenas of Ancient Rome.
Asiatic and African lions originated from the Eurasian subspecies, which are now heat-loving animals. Cave lions could originally live in cold conditions. In fact, these animals did not live in caves, but preferred savannahs and open areas, like modern lions. Many remains are found in caves for the reason that it was there that lions died – they rarely died from unnatural causes, therefore, dying of old age or illness, they found secluded places in caves where they died.
What did the cave lion eat?
Cave lions were savage predators that were at the top of the food chain in their Pleistocene era. Since these animals supposedly had a camouflage coloration that allowed them to blend in with the grass and vegetation of the area, they preferred quiet hunting and short pursuit of prey.
Cave lions could hunt the following animals:
- Giant deer were probably the most favorite prey for cave lions. These animals corresponded to the size of predators, lived in herds, which allowed lions to freely hunt them;
- cave bears, oddly enough, were also the objects of hunting for cave lions, especially those that lived in Siberia;
- camels that lived both in Siberia and in Asian regions could also be victims of cave lions, given the slowness of these herbivores;
- wild horses lived in large numbers in the habitats of cave lions;
- less often, cave lions could prey on such large animals as bison, yaks and woolly rhinos. These large ungulates could easily fight back a pack of cave lions. There is a similar situation in the world today, in which African lions sometimes prey on buffaloes, giraffes, or even elephants;
- mammoths could be the prey of cave lions. These cats could attack cubs or finish off old or sick individuals, but an adult mammoth could easily kill a cave lion.
It is also worth noting that as cave lions spread around the world, they could hunt on various birds, primates and even humans. Although, judging by the rock paintings, people also actively hunted cave lions for durable skins.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Scientists believe that cave lions had habits similar to their current relatives. For example, cave lions lived in prides, in which there was one male leader, several females and cubs. The male performed the function of protecting the pride, and was also the father of all the cubs in the pack.
Also, the conclusion that cave lions lived in prides can be drawn from cave paintings. It depicts a group of lions chasing prey – a deer, a rhinoceros or a horse. In fact, there is no clear hierarchy in the pride, which monkeys (for example, baboons or mandrills) have. Lionesses treat each other equally, even raise cubs together. Lions have no age status either: both young females and adults feed equally.
However, the leader occupies a special position in the pride of cave lions. He leads the young, fragile males, regularly letting them know about his subordinate position. When young males grow up, they are expelled from the pride, after which they live in a small group for some time until they find females for themselves. Also, the leader is indifferent or even aggressive towards his own cubs, and he can even kill other people's cubs, based on the fact of competition.
Rock paintings indicate that people hunted cave lions, but the reverse situation is not observed. Probably, cave lions preferred to stay away from people, seeing them as a danger – as it happens now. Therefore, cannibalism among cave lions was not widespread, although it did occur.
Social structure and reproduction
Modern lions do not have a specific breeding season. The male simply fertilizes all females of reproductive age who are in heat. By and large, the females in the pride are either pregnant, or nursing cubs, or have not yet reached childbearing age. Such a situation took place in the prides of cave lions, although there are a number of external nuances.
For example, the climate. Some cave lions have lived in cold climates where there is a certain amount of time from late spring to late summer when various aspects are favorable for raising cubs. Probably, East Siberian cave lions had a mating season that began in early spring, and their closest southern counterparts bred throughout the year, like African lions.
The male fertilizes the female in estrus. Sometimes he can mate with females that are not in heat, but in this case, the lioness can prevent the leader, respond aggressively, or even attack him. The leaders of the cave lions expelled grown young males from the prides in order to have the exclusive right of paternity for all cubs. This made it possible to produce strong, hardy and healthy offspring.
Interesting fact: Cave lions, like modern felines, could kill the cubs of other lions when they seized power over a new pride, expelling or killing the previous leader.
Difficult to say how many individuals there were in the pride of cave lions. The remains indicate that these are, as a rule, ten females, one male and from ten to twenty growing lion cubs. Lion cubs were brought up by lionesses collectively, and in adolescence, the lionesses took them with them to hunt, thanks to which the cubs learned to get their own food.
Natural enemies of the cave lion
Since the cave lion was one of the largest predators of its period, it had few natural enemies. No animals conducted a targeted hunt for a cave lion, but in the Pleistocene era it could fall victim to some large animals.
Cave Bears — very large ancient predators, much larger than modern bears. Cave bears may have been in conflict with cave lions due to their adjacent hunting range. Bears, like lions, hunted giant deer and horses, so collisions between these two predators during the hunt are quite likely. At the same time, a pride of cave lions is as dangerous for a cave bear as it is for them.
Mammoths are giants of their era. Far from all predators could hunt mammoths, and even people chose only cubs or old, sick or injured individuals as victims. Inexperienced, young cave lions could certainly attack mammoths or their cubs, subsequently encountering serious resistance from strong adults. Mammoths were smart and strong animals, so they could easily resist the pride of cave lions.
Ancient humans were the only creatures that targeted cave lions. In these animals, in the first place, people were attracted by a warm large skin, which was used as clothing or household items. Also, trophies in the form of teeth, claws and bones of these predators were valuable among people, giving hunters a special social status in the community.
Population and species status
Cave lions died out relatively recently, for a long time they confidently held the position of strong predators, so the causes of extinction are still being debated among researchers. These animals easily survived ice ages and climate changes, so climate changes could not directly affect cave lions.
Scientists believe that the main reason for extinction is the disappearance of the food supply of cave lions. Along with climatic changes, the natural areas in which giant deer, yaks and other animals lived, which the cave lions ate, disappeared. They were replaced by other animals, smaller ones that could not feed large predators. Because of this, cave lions gradually died out, because they simply could not feed themselves.
The extinction of cave lions did not have a significant impact on the biological hierarchy in nature. These large predators were replaced by smaller animals, which also introduced diversity into the fauna of many regions.
The cave lion largely continues to exist thanks to African lions, which differ from their ancient counterparts only in their size. Cave lions continue to arouse interest among scientists, and research on their lifestyle and physiological characteristics continues to this day.