The Ghostly Origins of the Big Cats

  • Published: 17 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.
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Comments • 1 529

  • Allan Bullock
    Allan Bullock  11 hours back

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

    • Ghostmane 666
      Ghostmane 666  14 hours back


      • SadWings Raging
        SadWings Raging  23 hours back

        When you get it right the first time,,,,,,

        • rob32tn
          rob32tn  1 days back

          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  1 days back

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

            • Martin  Hunt
              Martin Hunt  2 days back

              Planet 9x as we are ET

              • bigD Shafer steadman
                bigD Shafer steadman  3 days back

                For goodness sake 😂 it's sis not seese

              • Lis Sanguinan
                Lis Sanguinan  3 days back

                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 days back

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

                  • SatumainenOlento
                    SatumainenOlento  3 days back

                    Typical cat behavior...illusive and mysterious 😊

                    • RumblinTumblin CowboyShumblin

                      Favorite big cat ? Mine is the Jaguar

                      • mahfuz munna munna
                        mahfuz munna munna  3 days back

                        the reason behind our ignorance about big cats ancestors is that people dont want to invest lot of money on this type of research. moreover probably few people are really interested on this subject

                        • Travis Huggard
                          Travis Huggard  4 days back

                          What about smilodon and other sabre toothed cats? I thought that they would atleast share some ancestry.

                          • Steve Pittman
                            Steve Pittman  4 days back

                            Every one of those theorized big cats yells 'I was drawn by someone who doesn't know how to draw cats.' They all look just a bit off, in different ways.

                            • Kolos
                              Kolos  4 days back

                              They died, resurrected and ascended.

                              • Anthony Witchingmoon
                                Anthony Witchingmoon  4 days back

                                Big cats are awesome

                                • Mac Chernac
                                  Mac Chernac  4 days back

                                  So you are telling me my cats are Russian. No wonder they look pissed off all the time.

                                  • mig sup
                                    mig sup  5 days back

                                    What about saber tooth Tiger


                                    • Mahima Romanoffsallymw

                                      So us Indians are from cat land. 😬😒 I'm a dog person. I was born in wrong place 😔

                                      • Iman Ghosh
                                        Iman Ghosh  5 days back

                                        Asia has Lions Tigers Leopards Cheetahs Snow leopards. Way more big cat species than Africa. Most of them are extinct / near Extinction, but that's relatively modern phenomenon, because of human over hunting, not natural Extinction. It's very much possible that big cats originated in Asia.

                                        • Rayan Ighil
                                          Rayan Ighil  6 days back

                                          I really want a domisticated lion

                                          • S.N. Lee
                                            S.N. Lee  7 days back

                                            We're so worried about big cats! But you walk into the jungle and a jaguar will run from humans usually ,yet housecats fooled us for millions of years they no where we sleep they know your passwords and they are making you feed them and clean up after them meanwhile they knock your stuff off the counter while staring you in the eye and as anyone with a cat knows They can open doors!!!

                                            • Lord Bolton
                                              Lord Bolton  1 weeks back

                                              J A G U A I E R

                                              • GabrielDrewDavis
                                                GabrielDrewDavis  1 weeks back

                                                I’m surprise sabertooth tigers weren’t mentioned in this whole video

                                                • Spencer Hosch
                                                  Spencer Hosch  1 weeks back

                                                  What if they are an offshoot of the ancestors of the canines?

                                                  • ArrowHead x
                                                    ArrowHead x  1 weeks back

                                                    Cats are climbing dogs

                                                    • David Ramos
                                                      David Ramos  1 weeks back

                                                      Check with the thonder cats

                                                      • Cameron Boggs
                                                        Cameron Boggs  1 weeks back

                                                        would the lack of fossil evidence possibly infer that the modern species came in a vary similar form to what they are today? perhaps use ancient geography to search in between the Himalayas and Africa. for all we know the ancient big cats could be under the red sea or something lol

                                                        • Victor Dalesten
                                                          Victor Dalesten  2 weeks back

                                                          Please do a video on the origin of seals!

                                                          • Dariyon hyche the Clouded leopard

                                                            I'm a Clouded leopard

                                                            • Fernanda Zavala
                                                              Fernanda Zavala  2 weeks back

                                                              I have a lion 🦁 and he likes to play with me

                                                              • Thylaco Coalthy
                                                                Thylaco Coalthy  2 weeks back

                                                                All the basal Panthera species are in Asia and all the species have existed in Asia at some point.

                                                                Guy looking for Big Cat Origins before 2010: "Ima only look in Africa"

                                                                Seems like a likely story doesn't it.

                                                                • JohnThule B
                                                                  JohnThule B  2 weeks back

                                                                  Conclusion:big cats came from the inner earth

                                                                  • Monkey Guy80
                                                                    Monkey Guy80  2 weeks back

                                                                    Tiger & the Snow Leopard are the nicest felines

                                                                    • Ben Andoh
                                                                      Ben Andoh  2 weeks back

                                                                      An adage in my culture states an arrow shot is determined by a type of bow.....cats fossils can be determined by their preys...Casper captured

                                                                      • Alden Ze German
                                                                        Alden Ze German  2 weeks back

                                                                        The most amazing thing is we can only find the fossils of the certain ones fossilized but we shall never know the history of the missing animal skeletons that did not get fossil

                                                                        • big lil
                                                                          big lil  3 weeks back

                                                                          I wish they would talk about the giant Natodomeri lion

                                                                          • Luthuli Sanele
                                                                            Luthuli Sanele  3 weeks back

                                                                            It's the first time I hear Scientist saying they honestly don't know. I like it, but then again the question that I have is Why exactly do we need to know where our amazing cats descended from?

                                                                            • Sawrattan
                                                                              Sawrattan  3 weeks back

                                                                              We even know more about t-rex evolution than big cats!

                                                                              • Joe
                                                                                Joe  4 weeks back

                                                                                how about the saber-toothed cats, do they not have any relation?

                                                                                • kamion53
                                                                                  kamion53  4 weeks back

                                                                                  btw I recommend "the Big Cats and their fossil relatives" or "Sabertooth" by Mauricio Anton on this subject, very nice illustrated.

                                                                                • kamion53
                                                                                  kamion53  4 weeks back

                                                                                  There were three groups of Sabertooths, first the Nimravidae, a group of Carnivora that split of early from the Cat-group( that includes Cat's Hyeana's and mangoest, but not belong to either of those families, then the Barbourofelidae, a sistergroup to Felidae, but not belonging to the cat familie and last the Machairodontinae to which the well know Smilodon belongs, which was a subfamilie of the true cats. Not all sabertooths were big animals, they variated from housecat size to tiger size, Barbourofelis fricki was the last and largest of its line and the same for Smilodon populator. Big species tend to be specialists and specialist are most vulnarable to change. Sabertooths and Big cats lived a long period next to each other, but I think the Big Cats were the more adaptable ones, so they survided.

                                                                              • A.J.'s Adventures in Asia

                                                                                I use Express VPN, it is pretty good

                                                                                • betoen
                                                                                  betoen  4 weeks back

                                                                                  Any idea of why we like cats this much?

                                                                                  • j k
                                                                                    j k  4 weeks back

                                                                                    (Pssst - use different clips when you're showing occasional footage of the same animal).

                                                                                    • Darwin Jones
                                                                                      Darwin Jones  4 weeks back

                                                                                      Humans didn't come from Africa either.

                                                                                      • CH ii
                                                                                        CH ii  1 months back

                                                                                        never saw my cat died ... they just disappear ..

                                                                                        • John Stevenson
                                                                                          John Stevenson  1 months back

                                                                                          This is my favorite PBS channel.

                                                                                          • cyan demon fox
                                                                                            cyan demon fox  1 months back

                                                                                            I’ll call the panthera blytheae’s name is blyther

                                                                                            • David Reed
                                                                                              David Reed  1 months back

                                                                                              Very cool. The phrase at the end, “they are descended of ghosts” is almost mystical in its diction...