The saber-toothed tiger subfamily has dominated the world for over 10 million years and is the top predator on five continents. The species of the genus Panthera at this time had to submit to the strong dominance of the saber-toothed tiger, which acted as inferior predators to the saber-toothed tiger and had to avoid direct competition with them. .
However, over time and evolution, in order to gain more living space, species of the genus Panthera began to compete directly with the saber-toothed tiger subfamily again and again, and the jaguar was the one. pioneers in this war, they have shaken the hegemony of the saber-toothed tiger subfamily.
Dr. Jiang Zuoqigao, a graduate of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been studying jaguars for many years. He discovered that although jaguars today live mainly in Latin America, their ancestors were once distributed across five continents, and that the jaguar’s reign once lasted 2 million years.
Where did this dynasty originate, why did it flourish, and why did it decline?
Although jaguars now live in Latin America, their original origins are in Africa.
The original jaguar, named Panthera gombaszogensis. Its earliest fossils were found in South Africa, dating to 1.9 million years ago.
The cooler climate during the early Pleistocene created more open grassland and opened up animal migration channels. And Gambazog jaguars took this opportunity to migrate, they moved northward and this is also the first time leopards stepped out of Africa – about 1.8 million years ago and appeared in Western Asia as well as Southern Europe, established the “jaguar dynasty” spanning the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.
Gambazog jaguars were slightly larger than modern jaguars, weighing between 80 and 120 kg, while modern jaguars weighed between 50 and 100 kg.
However, when entering Europe, the first challenge they face is the saber-toothed tiger subfamily.
The subfamily of saber-toothed tigers that dominated Europe at the time were: Homotherium, weighing 100 to 200 kg, and Megatereon weighing 80 to 140 kg, feeding mainly on large herbivores.
Therefore, when entering Europe, Gambazog’s mottled cells acted as secondary predators, choosing prey from ungulates smaller than the prey of the two species mentioned above, like deer and ponies, thus, they avoided direct competition with the early saber-toothed tiger subfamily.
This clever ecological strategy helped make the Gombazog the most common big cat in Europe in the early Pleistocene.
Next, the Gambazog jaguar continued to expand its distribution to the east of Europe and western Asia. Dr. Jiang Zuo’s recent research on fossils from South Asia shows that the Gambazog jaguar arrived in South Asia about 1.4 million years ago. Accordingly, they became the most common leopard of this period.
However, so far there is no evidence of the presence of this leopard in East Asia. According to the incomplete paleontological fossil record of East Asia, the jaguar was unsuccessful in making its way into East Asia, instead, being distributed only in the marginal regions of East Asia.
The jaguar was able to successfully enter Europe because at that time there was no leopard in Europe, and in East Asia, that was when the Panthera palaeosinensis (ancient Chinese tiger) arose. so strong that they have no chance to compete.
Since the beginning of the Pleistocene century, ancient Chinese tigers have appeared in various regions of China, such as Mianchi in Henan and Longdan in Gansu. Its body size was significantly smaller than that of modern tigers, but similar to jaguars. In general, it is difficult for similar sized Panthera species to coexist in their habitat.
Gambazog’s expansion in East Asia was halted, so it bypassed East Asia, crossed North Asia, and entered North America via the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the Early Pleistocene (850,000 years ago). In the process, they gradually evolved into a new species of jaguar called Panthera onca augusta.
The arrival of the jaguar in North America came at a very timely time. Because not long before, North America had just experienced an extinction event, and the Xenosmilus species – the species that dominated North America for a long time and weighed 200 kg was extinct. While other species of the saber-toothed tiger subfamily have not yet evolved to take the place of Xenosmilus, the strongest species in the saber-toothed tiger subfamily in North America at this time is Smilodon gracilis, they only weigh from 70 to 100 kg.
Augusta leopards weigh from 100 to 140 kg, their weight and physique surpass that of their ancestors, the Gambazog jaguar. And of course they also surpassed the saber-toothed tiger subfamily physically, becoming the most powerful feline in North America at the time, and reaching the pinnacle of feline power for the first time.
Before and after the Middle Pleistocene, the Augusta jaguar penetrated South America and evolved into the modern jaguar Panthera onca onca, becoming the owner of the Amazon. So far, the jaguar’s footprints have traveled all over the five continents, and their reign has entered its golden age.
Just like the growth of the jaguar dynasty, the growth and evolution of the species that followed was inevitable, and that was its younger generation, the lions.
From the tree of evolution, jaguars, lions and leopards all belong to the genus African big cats, but jaguars diverged earlier than lions and leopards, lions and leopards are likened to “grandchildren”. ” of the jaguar.
In biology, there is a rule, closely related species often have similar ecological habits, when appearing in the same area, it is certain to keep them from competing for life and death. Lions are the latter species, they evolved from the branch of the African big cat, becoming the species that replaced and brought down the reign of the jaguar.
Contemporaneous with the earliest modern jaguar fossils, the first lion species also appeared in Tanzania, by which time lions had reached the size of modern lions, they outnumbered jaguars in size when new. appear. After that, jaguars disappeared in Africa, and lions continue to dominate Africa to this day.
About 600,000-800,000 years ago, lions also set out from Africa and began their journey to conquer the world. They soon appeared in northern Eurasia and evolved into the cave lion, Panthera spelaea. The breed was larger than modern lions, weighing 300 to 400 kilograms, and possibly the largest cat in history. After the lion entered Eurasia, it soon became the most common leopard in northern Eurasia, while the Gombazog jaguar gradually declined and disappeared from the Old World about 300,000 to 400,000 years ago .
Migration seems to be a family tradition among African big cats, an ability that lions have inherited from jaguars. In the late middle Pleistocene, about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, cave lions arrived in North America across the Bering Land Bridge and evolved into Panthera atrox, which replaced the Augusta jaguar and became the number one Panthera big cat. in North America.
If we look at the history of lions and jaguars, we will see that the migration routes of these two species are very similar. Both are native to Africa and migrated to Eurasia, North America and South America. The jaguar is always the first to migrate, while the lion is the latter, and they always follow the same route to the jaguar’s territory. As “descendants” of jaguars, but lions possess larger bodies and more favorable adaptations, they always hunt and kill jaguars in places they go through to gain position. the leader.
Towards the end of the Pleistocene, the lion dynasty entered its golden age and established a great empire spanning five continents, while the territory of the jaguar dynasty was greatly reduced, leaving only the American continent.