Tooth found in Mississippi sheds light on extinct American lions



One is never sure what surprises await when one sets out to explore. Something similar happened to Wiley Prewitt, who, while looking at a newly exposed sandbar in the Mississippi River that was being affected by drought, saw something sticking out of the sand that was black in color.

According to a report in smithsonianmag.com, when Prewitt examined the object closely, it dawned on him that it was a tooth, and it was really big! Though he suspected it belonged to a carnivore, he took it to the Mississippi Fossil and Artifact Symposium & Exhibition event, where he urged experts to examine it.

After careful examination, the paleontologists explained that the tooth attached to part of the fossilized jawbone belonged to Panthera atrox, or the American lion. This species roamed the region 11,000 years ago before becoming extinct.

These giant predators were found in Pleistocene North America and emerged 340,000 years ago. It is very rare to find her fossilized remains in the eastern United States, and the tooth Prewitt found is the fourth specimen found in Mississippi.

Panthera atrox or American Lion3
The American lion (Panthera atrox), well preserved in La Brea (Image courtesy of Twitter/@WildernessStor2)

Interestingly, when Prewitt went to the fossils and artifacts event to have the specimen he discovered examined, they had been talking about the earlier American lion fossils that had been found. George Phillips, curator of paleontology at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, aptly described this unusual situation to McClatchy News, saying it was “one of those true moments where you blink a few times because you can’t believe your eyes.”

According to the scientists, these ancient American lions were 25 percent larger than modern-day African lions, standing 4 feet at the shoulder and 5 to 8 feet long. Among them there were some individuals who may have weighed 450 kg, while others weighed between 225 kg and 360 kg.

Kate Lyons, a paleoecologist at the University of Nebraska, told Newsweek about this ancient species: “Since the American lion is just a different subspecies but the same species as the African lion, it would have looked like a larger version of the African lion.” However, we don’t know if it had a mane like African lions or not because the preservation of things like skin or hair is very rare in the fossil record.”

The researchers and scientists hope Prewitt will share his find with others, including museums and laboratory collections, for further study.

A native of Oxford, Mississippi, Prewitt found this tooth near Rosedale — a small town on the Mississippi-Arkansas border.



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