The First Lion

The First LionIt may look like a big leopard, but this is my reconstruction of how the earliest lions (Panthera leo) would have looked when their species evolved in Africa during the Pliocene epoch (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago). We know from recent genetic research that, among the big cats, lions are most closely related to leopards (Panthera pardus) and then jaguars (Panthera onca), so it seems reasonable to assume that the first lions would have also inherited a spotted coat from a common ancestor with those other species. Even today, lion cubs have faint leopard-like spots that fade away as they grow up.

The scruffy mane on this ancestral lion’s neck is only my own artistic speculation, but I wanted to get the point across that this animal was still of the leonine lineage.


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