The last Ice Age was a period of colder temperatures and drier climates starting around 3 million years ago and gradually coming to an end a little more than 10,000 years ago. The rising of temperatures at the end of this period coincided with the extinction of several big animal species, or megafauna, though it is still not known what were the exact causes of their demise.
While many animals disappeared from North America in the last few thousand years, others survived and thrived. The cougar, also known as mountain lion and puma, is one of them. And a team of researchers may have discovered why the cougar survived while other big cats weren’t so lucky.
Ryan Haupt and Larisa DeSantis from the University of Wyoming analyzed the microscopic wear present on the teeth of modern and fossil cougars, as well as other species of big carnivores, living and extinct. These marks left on the teeth of predators can tell a lot about how and what they ate during the last few weeks of their lives. For example, animals that mostly consume the softer flesh of their prey have small scratches on their teeth, like cheetahs. Others that routinely eat bones have deeper abrasions, as is the case for hyenas.