Leopards have a new ancestor

Los Angeles

In 2010, seven fossils were discovered that showed big cats came from Asia, not Africa. They were dated to be the oldest big cat fossils ever found. Paleontologists identified an undefined species that was closely related to the modern snow leopard. They estimate the bones were about 5 million to 6 million years old.The Panthera blytheae (Panther blytheae) was a smaller version of the snow leopard. We currently think it has been in China for millions of years. Zhijie Jack Tseng, a paleontologist who works at the New York American Museum of Natural History, says that the snow leopard probably evolved from the panthera blytheae.

One issue about big cats is that they don’t leave behind many traces, let alone fossils. Recent research suggests that different species of cats separated from each other about 11 million years ago. Lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards were in that group. Tseng says that is what most people think about these big cats. Tseng also especially mentions that if you just studied the bones you would think that they originated from Africa. But if you carefully study the DNA, you would think without a doubt that these cats arose from Asia. There was no new information to mix the two ideas together until now. A group of scientists used all of the fossils and DNA samples found previously. However, gigantic spaces still exist in the evolutionary series and Tseng says that they have the oldest modern fossils. He is also very interested in this because there are more ancient cat fossils to be found.

Panthera blytheae was named after Blythe Haaga, the daughter of the established museum benefactors Paul and Heather Haaga. Paul is the  head of the museum’s board of trustees. Heather gave the museum the idea of naming the new species after Blythe, because she loved snow leopards. Another reason the new spices was named after Blythe was because these species were so much like a modern snow leopard. The scientists named the new kitty after Blythe because they wanted to honor her on her 30th birthday. Blythe found out about this surprise birthday present when she was on a plane, flying home to New York.