While probably a rather intuitive topic, species tend to avoid becoming extinct. Now sometimes that is just out of the species control, whether it be human intervention or a natural disaster of the likes of an erupting volcano. When those factors are absent it is determined wholly by whether the species can reproduce and survive in its environment - some people will recognize that as Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism natural selection. But what if I told you that a species’ behavior, more specifically their eating behavior, could determine if they become extinct or not? Now people reading this might know about finicky eaters, maybe you are one, but that would not be a big deal for a human. Sadly, that’s a big deal for cat species in North America.
An article in Discovery News discusses how cat species in North America where driven to extinction because they were picky eaters. 12,000 years ago, there was a mass extinction event that struck North America. While cougars and jaguars managed to make out unscathed, the saber tooth cat and American lion did not. Researchers came to the conclusion that the cougars and jaguars survived because when it came to killing prey, they consumed the whole meal, muscle, guts, bones and all. The saber tooth cat and American lion did not exhibit the same eating behaviors, rather just focusing on the tender meat and completely ignoring the marrow from the bones. These same eating behaviors from the saber tooth and American lion actually match how cheetahs consume their prey, a famous example of a critically endangered species. Larisa R.G. DeSantis, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt actually conducted tests called "dental microwear texture analysis" wear researchers use high powered microscopes to look closely at the teeth of a species and from the tooth wear determine their meals.
From all of this research; it gives us, future biologists, the insight that a very generalized meal might be one of the keys to whether a species becomes close to extinction. To this very day, cougars still exhibit trends of its predecessors, consuming their whole prey, probably a reason why this big cat still prevails today.
Posted by Jacob Geier (11)