Cheetah lived in America 2.6 million to 12,000 years ago in Wyoming, Texas and Nevada

It may surprise many Americans to realise that the cheetah lived in Wyoming, Texas and Nevada between 12,000-2 million years ago (the Pleistocene epoch). And remarkably, this large, wild American cat looked very similar to the cheetah that we know today except it was considerably larger and probably weighed more than 95 kg compared with an average body weight of 57 kg for today’s cheetah. This ancient cheetah called the ‘American cheetah’ has the scientific name Miracinonynx. People known as Paleo-Indians lived in North American 30,000 years ago (. They must have met this ancient cheetah.

Cheetah. Image by Barry Reed from Pixabay.
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Miracinonynx was highly specialised just like the modern-day cheetah. It was built to catch prey through speed. To use fancy language, it was highly specialised for a cursorial lifestyle. The skull of Miracinonynx was very similar to that of the modern cheetah; both have a short face, small upper canines, and enlarged nasal passages.

Unlike any other cat, both ancient and modern cheetahs lack a postcanine gap, and the upper and lower tooth rows act together as a pair of shears.

This ancient cheetah was discovered from fragments of skeletons and nearly complete skeletons have been recovered from Natural Trap Cave in northern Wyoming.

Some palaeontologists think that cheetahs and pumas have had a common ancestor that lived in Eurasia and North America during the Miocene and Pliocene epochs. They also believe that the modern cheetah may have originated in North America. Molecular DNA analysis has revealed that the cheetah evolved quite recently and “represents an early branch of the pantherine lineage” which began to “radiate 4 to 6 million years ago and which includes the Asian golden cat, caracal, serval and puma.”

The references for this post vis-a-vis the cheetah are (1) DB Adams 1979 The Cheetah: Native American and (2) SJG O’Brien et al. 1987 Setting the molecular clock in Felidae: The great cats, Panthera. In Tigers of the World: The biology, biopolitics, management, and conservation of endangered species and (3) DN Janczewski et al. 1995 Molecular evolution of mitochondrial 12s RNA and cytochrome b sequences in the pantherine lineage of Felidae as referenced in the excellent book Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist.

The reference for the humans living 30k years ago is: Somerville, Andrew D.; Casar, Isabel; Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquín (2021). “New AMS Radiocarbon Ages from the Preceramic Levels of Coxcatlan Cave, Puebla, Mexico: A Pleistocene Occupation of the Tehuacan Valley?”. Latin American Antiquity: 1–15. doi:10.1017/laq.2021.26.

Cheetah claws
Cheetah claws. Photo in public domain on Pinterest.


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