Evolutionary History

Fossil evidence from the Eocene (56 to 43 million years ago) and Oligocene (34 to 23 million years ago) periods indicate that the origin of modern felids is derived from the saber toothed cats or Machairodontids. This group is most well known from the species Smilodon  or more commonly "the saber-toothed tiger" a name that highlights the groups prominent feature- hyper canines that could be up to 7 inches long. The exact use of these large canine teeth is debated to this day but it is likely that they had something to do with hunting the megafauna present in the Eocene and Oligocene. These bear-like cats were extinct by 10,000 years ago, but their remains are still commonly found in localities such as the La Brea tarpits in Los Angeles.  The Machairodontids also gave rise to a different set of animals known as the Nimravids or "false saber-toothed cats" that had a longer cranial morphology similar to modern cats and reduced canines compared to that of the sabre-tooth's. An important member of the Nimravids is Dinictis, who is likely the ancestor of all modern felids and is the most recent member of the Nimravids discovered. Dinictis is a leopard sized animals and theories postulate that it hunted and lived in a similar style to that of the modern leopard.

Shared Derived Traits

Shared derived traits, or synapomorphies, are traits that are shared by two or terminal groups and inherited from their most common ancestor.  Many of the shared ancestral traits for cougars are related to their predatory ability, for example the front feet and claws are larger than their counterparts in the rear which is an adaptation for clutching large prey.  Its muscular jaws, wide gape, and long canine teeth are designed for clamping down and holding onto prey larger than itself, and its teeth are especially adapted for cutting meat.

Shared Ancestral Traits

Shared ancestral traits, or sympleisomorphies, are traits that define a group of animals by the specialized adaptations that every member of the group shares. Felines, the group that cougars belong to, have several. The first of these being that it's claws that can retract up into it's paws just as most other cats can do. A cat's tongue is rough with papillae,a horny structure, for rasping meat off of their prey and for cleaning their fur. Feline sight is very advanced and a cat can be said to have binocular vision for seeing distant things, and in addition to this they have a reflective structure in their eye  called the tapetum lucidum that increases their nightvision to a high degree. Cats all have a carnivore tooth morphology to fit the carnivorous diet they usually exhibi

Canine Animal Phylogeny 

 

Felidae Phylogeny

  

Information compiled by: Emil Mellgren, Kit Osborne & Brad Andres