Biggest Feline Ever ?

The thread on “miniature cats” got me to thinking about the opposite side of the equation – the biggest cats. I know that the Siberian Tiger is the biggest species currently living. I also realize that “ligers” (lion/tiger hybrids) are even bigger. However, if we consider the fossil record, are the saber-tooth cats even bigger than ligers? I also remember reading that “ice-age” versions of lions were bigger than the ones living today. So – Are there any prehistoric species that dwarf the current contingent of felines?

Check out the Liger. at 1,000 lbs, I’ll be surprised if any extinct cat was bigger… Smilodons, by comparison, were about 450 lbs. But Ligers don’t occur naturally, so you may not want to count them.

Walker’s Mammals of the World gives the maximum weight for Siberian Tigers ( a subspecies of tiger, not a full species) as 306 kg, or 675 pounds.

The largest extinct cat of which I am aware is the Cave Lion and related American Lion, both of which are often considered subspecies of the modern lion but which were perhaps 25-30% larger. This site gives the average weight of an American Lion as 235 kg, which suggests that really big individuals could have rivalled a Siberian Tiger. However, it is possible that the Siberian Tiger is in fact the largest cat that has ever lived (excluding a hybrid like the liger).

I don’t think all the “facts” listed here are accurate, but it has some interesting tidbits.

Also note that the smilodon (AKA sabertooth), like the cheetah, is not a true cat (though they’re closely related). But one has to draw the line somewhere, lest one start claiming that the Kodiak bear is the largest cat.

Cheetahs are certainly “true cats,” being members of the family Felidae, although usually separated in their own subfamily. Smilodon was also a true cat by most definitions, usually being placed in the subfamily Machairodontinae within the Felidae, although this is has sometimes been elevated to the Family level. There were, however, some other sabertooth predators that were not true cats, in a family called the Nimravidae. (There were also large sabertooth marsupial predators in South America at one time.)

The confusion may arise because sabertooth cats were often called sabertooth tigers. Tigers they are definitely not.

Were there any other large mammal predators that are now extinct? What ate all those gigantic Pleistocene herbivores?

IMO the scariest Pleistocene predator was the Giant Short-faced Bear. Much larger than a polar bear, and the long legs would probably have made it pretty fast as well.

More on the Short faced Bear.

I was going to point this out when I read Chronos’s post. “Cats” as a generic, including lions, tigers, leopards, ocelots, and the like, is usually equated to the Felidae, not to the Felinae (the subfamily containing cats in the specific sense and the “big cats”, as opposed to the Machairodontinae and the Acinonychinae, the subfamily whose sole member is the cheetah). I don’t believe I’ve ever seen separation of the Machairodontinae as a separate family, though some mammalogists do create the Acinonychidae for the cheetah.

It might be noted that “sabertoothitude” is a characteristic that occurred several times in the Feloidea (cats and their allies, including the hyenas, the mongooses, etc.) as well as Thylacosmilus, the South American marsupial sabertooth. There are Nimravids, Machairodontines, Felines (members of Felinae) and as I recall one other extinct family I don’t recall the name of.

Apropos of all this and of interest to evolutionists, it’s worth noting that nearly every non-cursorial characteristic of the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is duplicated in the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), the Malagasy carnivore usually classified as a Viverrid (with the civets and mongoose) that is considered cladistically the closest outlier to the Felidae.

The largest known predator ever was Andrewsarchus, an Eocene member of the family Mesonychidae, related to the modern ungulates. It may have been a scavenger rather than an active hunter.

More on Andrewsarchus

That is, largest known mammalian terrestrial predator.

Its already been said; but I saw within the last year on Animal Planet that Ligers are the largest cats to have ever lived.

The Mesonychids, of which* Andrewsarchus* was a large, late member, are also generally believed to have been the ancestors of the whales. Andy himself, though, was too late to have been in the direct lineage; the archaeocetes like Basilosaurus (Zeuglodon), not to mention Ambulocetus and Pakicetus, were already flourishing in the oceans when he was terrorizing Mongolia.

Would you mind repeating this link? As it stands now, it links to the entire Internet, which is no doubt accurate but not particularly useful. :wink:


Nothing until they died and the carrion eaters, probably pretty much everything, dug in. I would suppose that predators attacked the young whenever they got a chance and ate their eggs.

After all modern adult elephants, hippos and rhinos don’t have any predators other than people.

Good point. Although it’s possible (if unlikely) that there were predators large enough to take down the largest herbivores in the past.

In how many ecosystems (present or past) can the largest predator reliably prey upon the largest herbivores? I can think of two: the islands with komodo dragons, and the islands with the kodiak bears. Are there any other, especially non-island, examples?

In the New World tropics Jaguars can pretty reliably take tapirs, the largest herbivore, but they more commonly prey on deer and peccaries. But this is a rather artificial situation, since all the really large neotropical herbivores, which included mastodonts and giant ground sloths, were killed off at the end of the Pleistocene.

Oddly enough, possibly not in both your examples. Cuvierionis. the South American mastodont, survived well into the Holocene; the “youngest” subfossil specimen (in the sense of surviving most nearly to the present) was dated to the 4th Century A.D. There is some speculation that the so-called “Mayan elephants” were stylized representations of Cuvierionis. (They were stylized representations of something, but exactly what is hotly debated among the archaeological community.) And while Megatherium, the classic “giant ground sloth” of typical popular extinct-animal literature, was a goner by the end of the Pleistocene, there are subfossil remains and dung attributed to Mylodon, a smaller, dopier-looking ground sloth, that are almost certainly Holocene in age.