, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 155-179
Date: 18 Jan 2008

Evolutionary convergence of primitive sabertooth craniomandibular morphology: the clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and Paramachairodus ogygia compared

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The sabertoothed felids were among the most unusual predators in the late Tertiary ecosystems, and the sabertooth morphology is regarded as being absent from the modern ecosystems. In recent years, the primitive Paramachairodus has become well known and has yielded much valuable information on the primitive skull morphology among sabercats, providing the first evidence-based scenarios for the evolution of skull morphology in later sabercats. However, comparison of craniomandibular morphology of the extant clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa and Paramachairodus reveals numerous similarities and subsequent divergence from other extant great cats. In several key aspects, the clouded leopard has approached a primitive sabercat craniomandibular morphology and has diverged markedly from its sister group, the Panthera lineage. A primitive sabertooth condition arose six times in the Tertiary period, not five as is traditionally advocated. The clouded leopard appears to be a useful model for understanding primitive sabercat morphology and could shed important light on sabercat evolution. The unusual nature of the clouded leopard implies that increased efforts should be spent on insuring the continuing survival of this rare and endangered species.