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A Production of

Panthera leo, Lion
Dr. Pamela Owen - The University of Texas at Austin
Panthera leo
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skull
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University of California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ 117849)

Image processing: Dr. Jessie Maisano
Image processing: Ms. Rachel Racicot
Publication Date: 08 Apr 2002

Growth series: juvenile | adult

ITIS TNS Google MSN

Panthera leo, the lion, is widely distributed in the open woodlands, grasslands, and scrub of Africa, and a single population (P. l. persica) resides in the Gir Forest of India. Panthera leo has been extirpated from Algeria, Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, and Tunisia within the last 150 years, and from western Europe 2,000 years ago. Panthera l. persica is listed on CITES Appendix I and has been given endangered status by the U.S. and IUCN; all other populations are listed on CITES Appendix II.

Pleo

Panthera leo is a member of the pantherine lineage, which also includes P. pardus (leopard), P. tigris (tiger), P. onca (jaguar), Neofelis nebulosa (clouded leopard), and Uncia uncia (snow leopard). Fossils of their most recent common ancestor have yet to be identified, but mitochondrial gene sequence data suggest that species divergence began 6 million years ago. The earliest record of P. leo is from Laetoli, Tanzania, with a date of roughly 3.8 million years before present. By 900,000 years ago, P. leo reached Eurasia.

The Pleistocene lions, Panthera leo atrox (American lion) and P. l. fossilis/spelaea (Eurasian cave lion) generally were of larger (up to 25%) body size than the extant subspecies: the average body weight for male American lions has been estimated as 235 kg (518 lbs.) and that of females as 175 kg (386 lbs.). The extinct subspecies may not have been cooperative hunters, or perhaps only formed small foraging groups, behaving more like the Asiatic lion, P. l. persica. Fossil remains from Rancho La Brea indicate equal numbers of adult males and females, suggesting that the American lion hunted in pairs or alone.

The morphology of the skull of Panthera leo is designed to exert powerful forces at the level of the canines when closing its jaws. The primary jaw-closing muscle, the temporalis, originates on the wide area of the lateral surface of the cranium. Lions often kill large prey such as zebra and wildebeest by strangulation (closing jaws around the throat) or by suffocation (closing jaws around the muzzle). Panthera leo relies heavily on its massive canines and incisors when feeding on muscle and connective tissue, and the skin of the prey is removed from the carcass with short pulls using these anterior teeth. Not surprisingly, the teeth P. leo breaks most often are the canines; the probability of an individual lion breaking a tooth during its lifetime is estimated to be greater than 0.25.

About the Species

This specimen of Panthera leo, an adult, was collected by Tom Larson, Zkukuza, Kruger Park, Transvaal, South Africa in 1948. It was made available to The University of Texas High-Resolution X-ray CT Facility for scanning courtesy of Drs. Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Jessica Theodor, Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of California, Los Angeles. Funding for scanning was provided by Dr. Van Valkenburgh and by a National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative grant to Dr. Timothy Rowe of The University of Texas at Austin. This lion is one of several felid carnivorans included in ongoing research of respiratory turbinates by Drs. Van Valkenburgh and Theodor.

About this Specimen

The specimen was scanned by Matthew Colbert on 15 December 2000 along the coronal axis for a total of 406 slices, each slice 1.05 mm thick and with an interslice spacing of 1.0 mm. The dataset displayed was reduced for optimal Web delivery from the original, much higher resolution CT data.

About the
Scan

Literature

Johnson, W. E., and S. J. O'Brien. 1997. Phylogenetic reconstruction of the Felidae using 16S rRNA and NADH-5 mitochondrial genes. Journal of Molecular Evolution 44:S98-S116.

Kurtén, B. 1968. Pleistocene mammals of Europe. Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago. 317 pp.

Kurtén, B., and E. Anderson. 1980. Pleistocene mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York. 442 pp.

Fischer, K. 1994. New findings of late Pleistocene cave lions Panthera leo spelaea (Goldfuss, 1810) in Ruebeland (Harz). Braunschweiger Naturkundliche Schriften 4:455-471.

Leyhausen, P. 1979. Cat behavior. The predatory and social behavior of domestic and wild cats. Garland STPM Press, New York. 340 pp.

Mattern, M. Y., and D. A. McLennan. 2000. Phylogeny and speciation of felids. Cladistics 16:232-253.

Merriam, J. C., and C. Stock. 1932. The Felidae of Rancho La Brea. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication No. 422. 231 pp. + 42 plates.

Owen, P. R. 1994. Comparative morphology of the atlas-axis complex in large felids and canids of Rancho La Brea. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, California State University, Long Beach. 163 pp.

Salles, L. O. 1992. Felid phylogenetics: extant taxa and skull morphology (Felidae, Aeluroidea). American Museum Novitates 3047:1-67.

Savage, R. J. G. 1978. Carnivora. Pp. 249-267 in: Evolution of African Mammals. Maglio, V. J., and H. B. S. Cooke, editors. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 641 pp.

Schaller, G. B. 1972. The Serengeti Lion, a study of predator-prey relations. The University of Chicago Press. 480 pp.

Turner, A. 1990. The evolution of the guild of larger terrestrial carnivores during the Plio-Pleistocene in Africa. Geobios (Lyon) 23:349-368.

Turner, A. 1997. The big cats and their fossil relatives. Columbia University Press, New York. 234 pp.

Van Valkenburgh, B. 1988. Incidence of tooth breakage among large, predatory animals. The American Naturalist 131:291-302.

Van Valkenburgh, B. 1996. Feeding behavior in free-ranging, large African carnivores. Journal of Mammalogy 77:240-254.

Van Valkenburgh, B., J. Theodor, A. Friscia, and T. Rowe. 2001. Respiratory turbinates of carnivorans revealed by CT scans: a quantitative comparison. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 21:110A.

Links

Panthera leo species accounts provided by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group

The brain of Panthera leo (Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections website)

Panthera leo on The Animal Diversity Web (The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

The Lion Research Center

Asiatic Lion Information Centre

American lion on the Yukon Beringia website

American lion image on the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries website

Panthera leo on the Cyber Zoomobile

Panthera leo on Big Cats Online

Felidae on the Cyber Zoomobile

Literature
& Links

None available.

Additional
Imagery

To cite this page: Dr. Pamela Owen, 2002, "Panthera leo" (On-line), Digital Morphology. Accessed October 23, 2014 at http://digimorph.org/specimens/Panthera_leo/adult/.

©2002 - UTCT/DigiMorph Funding by NSF
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