Quantitative Analyses of Feliform Humeri Reveal the Existence of a Very Large Cat in North America During the Miocene

Abstract

Felids are keystone predators in modern ecosystems and likely played a similar role in shaping ecosystems through the Cenozoic. Unfortunately, understanding the paleoecological impact of felids has been hampered by taxonomic confusion and uncertainty in big cat diversity through time. This stems, in part, from the importance of dentition in differentiating feliform taxa combined with the abundance of postcrania in the fossil record. This dilemma is best illustrated by the humeri of a very large felid uncovered from a number of Hemphillian-aged localities in North America that, in the absence of craniodental remains, have not previously been definitively identified. We present the results of an analysis of the potential of isolated distal humeri to identify feliform taxa. We compared the form and size of distal humeri across feliforms using geometric morphometric analysis and used linear measurements to reconstruct body mass and estimate prey size. Our results suggest that distal humeri are useful tools for differentiating feliform families, genera, and species. Further, along with a specimen from Idaho with associated dentition, they suggest that the large Hemphillian-aged felid is a new species of Machairodus. Future phylogenetic analyses will be necessary to reconstruct the evolutionary history of North American Machairodontinae, but this new taxon provides evidence for a diverse predator fauna during the late Miocene of North America that included some of the largest felids in Earth history.

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Acknowledgements

Nick Famoso (JODA) shared photos of several specimens. R. Dunn and C. Howard (LACMHC) provided photos of numerous Smilodon specimens. Access to and photos of IMNH 38696 were provided by M. Thompson (IMNH). Access to other collections was provided by E. Davis and S. Hopkins (UOMNH), P. Holroyd (UCMP), C. Sagebiel and M. Brown (TMM), J. Wible and S. McLaren (CM), R. Muehlheim (CMNH), K. Anderson and G. Wilson (UWBM), J. Galkin (AMNH), R. Hulbert (FLMNH), C. Argot (MNHN), D. Miao and D. Burnham (KUVP), R. Dunn, V. Rhue, S. McLeod, and J. Dines (LACM), R. Dunn (LACMHC), A. Milhouse (USNM), C. Stinson (UBCBBM), and K. Cassidy (CRCM). C. Meloro provided useful discussion. Orcutt was funded in part by startup funds provided by Gonzaga University and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Calede was funded by a College of Arts and Sciences Regional Campus Research and Creative Activity Grant from the Ohio State University and startup funds from the Ohio State University. Additional photos were taken during data collection supported by a Paleontological Society Norman Newell Award to Calede. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and in particular J. Engum. M. Minthorn, P. Cash Cash, and B. Conner, consulted on the species name for Machairodus lahayishupup and provided permission for the use of Old Cayuse. An anonymous reviewer and M. Salesa provided valuable feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. Editor-in-Chief John Wible shepherded this manuscript through its revisions.

Funding

Orcutt was funded in part by startup funds provided by Gonzaga University and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Calede was funded by a College of Arts and Sciences Regional Campus Research and Creative Activity Grant from the Ohio State University and startup funds from the Ohio State University. Additional photos were taken during data collection supported by a Paleontological Society Norman Newell Award to Calede.

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Orcutt, J.D., Calede, J.J. Quantitative Analyses of Feliform Humeri Reveal the Existence of a Very Large Cat in North America During the Miocene. J Mammal Evol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-021-09540-1

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Keywords

  • Allometry
  • Felidae
  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Humerus
  • Machairodus
  • Nimravidae