Science  15 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6160, pp. 784

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  1. Ancient Himalayan 'Big Cat' Revealed

    Frigid find.

    Extinct cat species resembled the snow leopard.


    Researchers have discovered the oldest fossil yet of the pantherine lineage, which includes tigers, jaguars, and lions. Skull and jaw fragments and teeth recovered from the Tibetan Plateau reveal a new species, similar to the snow leopard, dating back 4 million to 6 million years. The next-oldest pantherine fossils (3.8 million years) came from East Africa. "It's given us a new part of the world to look at for the evolution of the big cat lineage," says Andrew Kitchener, a mammalogist at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Previous studies suggested that the first pantherine emerged 10 million to 11 million years ago, but likely didn't split into other species for at least 5 million years. However, the new find suggests that big cats emerged and diversified earlier and more gradually than previously thought, says vertebrate paleontologist Z. Jack Tseng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Tseng and colleagues describe the new species, Panthera blytheae, this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.