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New prehistoric cat species discovered in Spain

New prehistoric cat species discovered in Spain

Scientists have discovered a new prehistoric cat species that lived in modern-day Spain about 15.5 million years ago, shedding more light on the diversity of felines during this period.

The cat species, named Magerifelis peignei, belonged to a subgroup of small cats with predatory behavior similar to those of Iberian lynxes, suffocating “medium-sized prey” after bites applied to the throat, researchers say.

The new species was identified based on fossil remains unearthed in 2007 at the Príncipe Pío-2 site near Madrid City in Spain.

Researchers unearthed well-preserved remains of partial jaw bones as well as all the teeth – except the incisors – of the prehistoric cat.

“The specimen is very well preserved, showing the complete hemimandible, as well as all the teeth except the incisors,” scientists wrote in the study, published last week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“The specimen is in such an excellent state of preservation, with almost all the dentition and mandibular structures present, that it constitutes one of the most complete known fossils of early felines up to date,” researchers added.

The medium-sized feline lived in the Middle Miocene era around 15.5 million years ago and may have had a “strong bite when hunting,” scientists say.

Reconstruction of the mandible, skull, masticatory muscles, and life appearance of Magerifelis peignei (Artwork by J. Gamarra/Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology)
Reconstruction of the mandible, skull, masticatory muscles, and life appearance of Magerifelis peignei (Artwork by J. Gamarra/Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology)

Analysing parts of the prehistoric feline’s lower jaw bones, researchers say M peignei, could have preyed upon “relatively larger prey” than those of modern-day cats.

“These characters suggest that the Príncipe Pío-2 feline could have preyed upon relatively larger prey than those of extant, similarly sized felines,” researchers wrote.

Scientists observed that some of the cat’s special features compared to other felines of its time are a smaller second lower molar tooth (m2), and a relatively smaller lower canine.

Among modern-day felines, researchers say the presence of m2 has been only observed in the Eurasian lynx found across Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe to Siberia, Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, as well as the Himalayas.

However, they say the presence of this tooth in currently existing cat species is generally a “very infrequent feature.”

The latest findings, researchers say, increase understanding of the diversity and evolution of cats during this period of prehistoric Europe.