The Ghostly Origins of the Big Cats

  • Published on: 16 May 2019
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    All of today’s big cat species evolved less than 11 million years ago and yet their evolutionary history remains an almost total mystery. But scientists have recently discovered a major clue about the origins of the big cats, one that could provide a whole new starting place for solving this puzzle.

    Thanks to Ceri Thomas for the excellent Panthera blytheae and Panthera atrox! Check out more of Ceri's paleoart at and

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    Tseng, Z. J. et al. (2014). Himalayan fossils of the oldest known pantherine establish ancient origin of big cats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20132686.
    Johnson, W. et al. (2006). The Late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: a genetic assessment. Science 311: 73-77.
    Davis, B. et al. (2010). Supermatrix and species tree methods resolve phylogenetic relationships within the big cats, Panthera (Carnivora: Felidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 56: 64-76.
    Turner, A. and Antón, M. (1997). The big cats and their fossil relatives. New York: Columbia University Press.
    Werderlin, L. and Lewis, M.E. (2005). Plio-Pleistocene Carnivora of eastern Africa: species richness and turnover patterns. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 144: 121–144.
    Zhou Y. et al. (2017). Comprehensive species set revealing the phylogeny and biogeography of Feliformia (Mammalia, Carnivora) based on mitochondrial DNA. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0174902.
  • Runtime : 8:32
  • dinosaurs dinos paleo paleontology scishow eons pbs pbs digital studios hank green john green complexly fossils natural history American Lion Leopard Big Cats Panthera Jaguar Lions Tigers Leopards ghost lineage Pleistocene Epoch Olduvai Laetoli molecular clock Panthera blytheae Eurasian cave lion himalayas Panthera atrox


  • Kayenne54
    Kayenne54   1 days ago

    5:30 Taking a cat to my mother's; had my passenger window open literally 2 inches, and the cat flattened itself like a snake and almost escaped while I was driving. I've since theorized that cats are descended from snakes. Laugh if you like but look at that skull. And then there's the cat like predilection for "sunning itself". My overall theory is that most species are descended from reptiles anyway. Seeing as how reptiles preceded us mammal-like species anyway, apparently.

  • Jeff W
    Jeff W   1 days ago

    should have said as elusive as the cat itself

  • JustSomeGuy
    JustSomeGuy   2 days ago

    Although we cannot be sure about the nature of these ghost ancestors to Modern felines, one thing is certain - they would love a ball of yarn.

  • Aaron Jones
    Aaron Jones   4 days ago

    Would be cool if the fossils were from Antarctica

  • Angela Wilson
    Angela Wilson   4 days ago

    I wish I could pet all the kitty cats of the world

  • broceratops1337
    broceratops1337   5 days ago

    Recently discovered your channel through TierZoo. Great content for sure, but I must also comment that the presenter's pin game is legit. 😂

  • Luis Aldamiz
    Luis Aldamiz   6 days ago

    Properly calibrating the "molecular clock"? I approve. Hopefully human-centric genetists will some day learn something from actual biologists.

  • NinjaTB
    NinjaTB   6 days ago

    Anyone else notice the vibrating phone at 0:08 ?

  • DK*Domovoi
    DK*Domovoi   1 weeks ago

    They need to rethink the 'big cats' category. It was originally defined by the ossification of the hyoid bone as an evolved trait, but it's probably just an epigenetic feature that pops up/disappears within few generations when (prey) size changes. Humans have similar bones that only appear with tall/heavy people (second knee cap). It's documented that 'big cat' leopards can produce viable offspring with 'small cat' pumas (even has a name: pumapards) and felines in general are 'famous' for crossbreading easily. It's probably a much tighter family than we realize.

  • TheAGaming Oviraptor
    TheAGaming Oviraptor   1 weeks ago

    I thought it was because humans were too busy trying to find their past ancestors. lol😂

  • Kendra Caruso
    Kendra Caruso   1 weeks ago

    PLEASE do an episode about the “so-called” American Lion!! I volunteer at a small museum with an Ice Age cave on grounds (Riverbluff Cave) which has trace evidence of an American Lion. I did not know that there was any controversy about the species, and I want to be up to date on my info, so I can give the most accurate tours possible! (And maybe some research?)Also, I have been obsessed with big, small, and domestic cats since childhood. I MUST KNOW!!!!

  • Lui Sforza
    Lui Sforza   1 weeks ago

    Ghost Lineage REALLY Intrigues me...I mean it's like these Big Cats just Popped up out of Thin Air...Same with like a T-Rex or any Animal...We talk about them like they just Pop out of thin Air...We almost never talk about the in between or how they got to that Point...So Interesting how it seems like they came out of Nowhere...Evolution is so Fascinating!!!🤯🤯🤯

  • Mohammed Shibli
    Mohammed Shibli   1 weeks ago

    I'm beginning it wonder if these big cats even evolved from a common ancestor.I mean , just look at that tree.We don't know a single supposed ancestor. That's 11 cat species unknown for 6 species in the panthera alone!

  • Mohammed Shibli
    Mohammed Shibli   1 weeks ago

    1:29Could someone please explain to me why the common ancestors are not named in the family tree.Thanks

  • James Mansfield
    James Mansfield   1 weeks ago

    wonder why saber tooth tigers did to the lucky bug cats that will live to the future and i have expressVPN it fixs my internent so shout out to expressVPN!

  • What Breaks The Silence

    I have never seen the dead body of my pet cats; i just accepted the fact that they would just leave this plane through a portal without a trace and travel to the higher planes thus no fossil records

  • Dee karra
    Dee karra   1 weeks ago

    I am from Australia and still wondering why kangaroos have pouch to carry their young ones. Is it an evolutionary advantage? Seems like evolution decided to take a break when kangaroos developed pouch.

  • Spacefrisian
    Spacefrisian   2 weeks ago

    Khajiit knows what missing link is, but Khajiit wont tell.

  • markv1
    markv1   2 weeks ago

    I think it makes perfect sense that big cats originated in Asia. Africa has only lions and leopards but Asia has tigers, lions, leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards. Only Jaguar is missing (and it's only in the Americas).

  • Matty Matt
    Matty Matt   2 weeks ago

    cats arent from earth. they came from Thundera

  • Allan Bullock
    Allan Bullock   3 weeks ago

    How do they know the lineage is 11 million years if they don’t have 11 million year old fossils?

  • rob32tn
    rob32tn   3 weeks ago

    I`m dying to know more about how HERRERSAURUS ., how it seemed more reptilian then its successor`s in the Jurassic and so on ? PLEASE? Just HERRERSAURUS period would be super nice and way awesome.

  • Debra Bridges
    Debra Bridges   3 weeks ago

    The sabertooth tiger wasn't mentioned. ????????

  • Lis Sanguinan
    Lis Sanguinan   3 weeks ago

    That's just...normal cat behavior...ghost out and be mysterious about everything...where'd the socks go, the paw in the yoghurt dish, the hair balls, the bones of your ancestors...m

  • Doc Zaius
    Doc Zaius   3 weeks ago

    I would like to see something on the organs of the Coatimundi and Racoons and how they are related to bears