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The evolution of the palaeopantherine cats, Palaeopanthera gen. nov. blytheae (Tseng et al., 2014) and Palaeopanthera pamiri (Ozansoy, 1959) comb. nov. (Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae)

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A skull of a large cat, found in the Zanda Formation in the northwestern Tibetan Himalaya and dated to 4.42 Ma, was originally described as Panthera blytheae and interpreted as sister species of Panthera uncia (Tseng et al. 2014). The position of this cat’s infraorbital foramen, the only cranial synapomorphic and key character of the genus Panthera besides the hyoid structure, excludes however a Panthera classification. Two ridges converging to the tip at the labial side of the P4 paracone are quite unusual and were interpreted in the original description as a unique, autapomorphic feature of the Zanda felid. Indeed, such a structure is also found in Middle Pleistocene Neofelis nebulosa primigenia. On the other hand, the dentition of the Zanda cat is not specialised as in Neofelis, and a fragmentary lower molar is rather reminiscent of Middle Miocene North American Pseudaelurus. Consequently, a new genus Palaeopanthera is described for this felid, now called Palaeopanthera blytheae. The early Late Miocene pantherine species, lately classified as Miopanthera pamiri, is also attributed to this genus, now called Palaeopanthera pamiri. Both extant Neofelis species are understood as highly specialised surviving palaeopantherines. The taxonomic affiliation of the two Palaeopanthera species pamiri and blytheae inserts the last mosaic stones to design a more complete and conclusive picture of the phylogeny of the pantherine clade than has been so far possible, from its roots in the earliest Late Miocene to the seven extant species of the genera Neofelis and Panthera.

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T. Deng (Beijing) generously provided detailed photos of the ‘Panthera’ blytheae holotype upper premolars. D. Geraads (Paris) sent original photos of ‘Miopanthera’ pamiri [first used for fig. 1 in Geraads and Peigné (2017)]. B. Fiedler (Weimar) kindly procured some references. A. Lord (Frankfurt) is gratefully acknowledged for the language editing. N. Spassov (Sofia) and G. Baryshnikov (St. Petersburg) contributed valuable thoughts and information during the reviewing process.

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Appendix 1

Tigris. The present author (Hemmer 1964b) originally named the subgenus Panthera (Tigris) as Tigris Oken, 1816, but recently (Hemmer 2022) changed it to Uncia Gray, 1854, citing the non-availability of Tigris Oken, 1816, due to the decision of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature: Opinion 1368 (1985). During the reviewing process of the present paper G. Baryshnikov drew the author’s attention to the fact that the subgenus in question should be called by priority Tigris Gray, 1843. That is correct. The author is sorry for the mistake arising from the somewhat chaotic and contradictory ICZN voting procedure to reach Opinion 1368. During the preceding process the present author requested the ICZN to take the following action: “To use its plenary powers: (1) to validate the generic name Panthera Oken, 1816, as allowed by Opinion 417 …; (2) to decide on the subgeneric name Tigris between the authors Oken, 1816, and Gray, 1862” (Hemmer 1967). The first ICZN vote (April 1978) was in favour of “validating Pan Oken, 1816, Panthera Oken, 1816 and Tigris Oken, 1816”. Procedural problems led to a second vote “to confirm the decision reached in 1978” (August 1985), which was reaffirmed (Opinion 1368). Nevertheless, the final Opinion only mentions Pan and Panthera, but not Tigris, contrary to the original vote.

Appendix 2

The so-called “jaguar-like” Panthera balamoides, newly described from Yucatán (Mexico) and based on a fragmentary distal humerus (Stinnesbeck et al. 2018), has nothing in common with Panthera and therefore must not be taken into consideration here. It is morphologically similar to the ursid genus Arctotherium (Schubert et al. 2019).

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Hemmer, H. The evolution of the palaeopantherine cats, Palaeopanthera gen. nov. blytheae (Tseng et al., 2014) and Palaeopanthera pamiri (Ozansoy, 1959) comb. nov. (Mammalia, Carnivora, Felidae). Palaeobio Palaeoenv 103, 827–839 (2023).

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