Lions - a young species or not?

I read several months ago that lions were one of the younger species of mammals, showing up around 75,000-100,000 years ago (making them younger than homo sapiens). I thought this was interesting and thought it may have had something to do with lions being so different from the rest of the great cats (they are different from all the rest in that they live and hunt in groups and show a lot of sexual dimorphism) and the fact that lions were so widespread until recent times. Tonight I was reading some other sites that told a different story - they said that fossil evidence showed that lions were among the first members of genus panthera, and that they had been around for app. 6 million years.

So, which is it, and why are there such different opinions on this matter - some saying they are the oldest of the big cats, some saying the newest?

I don’t have a cite for this, but I’ve heard of an “ancestral lion” out there whose exact relationship to modern lions is in dispute among the experts. Perhaps part of your confusion is due to you getting your information from people on different sides of the argument?

While looking for a cite about the aforementioned mystery cat, I came across this site, which says, “Fossil records show that the lion appeared on the scene considerably more recently than the other members on the genus Panthera. The earliest known records date back to around 750,000 years ago and stem from Western Africa. From here lions spread north into Asia and Europe, were the Cave lion (Panthera spelaea) and Tuscany lion were found in the Balkans and Northern Italy respectively. The ancestral lion also crossed from Asia into north America and the American lion (Panthera atrox) spread south as far as Peru.”

So maybe your confusion is due to the fact that different writers mean different things when they say “lion.” Sort of like when you read about the history of mankind, you’ll sometimes find mention of a hominid that looked nothing like you or me refered to as “an early human.” Perhaps one expert is refering to all the aforementioned animals as lions, while another is just refering to the modern version. Just a thought.

Sorry this isn’t much of a response. I thought I’d have more hard information for you when I started writing this, but sometimes Google isn’t your friend. There really is a prehistoric animal that some scientists want to call a lion, though. I’m (pretty) sure of it!

I believe it’s simply a matter of how the writer is using the word “lion.” From this site:

So according to this, three million years ago, lions and tigers had apparently not diverged. Whether this creature should actually be called a “lion” would be a matter of opinion. Likewise for any earlier ancestor, such as the six-million year old form you mention. Perhaps these ancestral forms were closer in morphology to lions than they were to other members of Panthera, which may be why some authors refer to them as 'lions."

Likewise exactly when the “modern” lion emerged depends on whether you accept fossil forms (spelea and atrox) as species separate from Panthera leo, or merely as subspecies of Panthera leo.