This may be interesting to you if you'd like to refresh your knowledge of Europe's ice age predators. If not, forgive me for thinking out loudly here!
All linked images are courtesy of www.prehistoric-fauna.com
I really wanted to create a size chart of my ancient cat characters and a few of the other animals they shared their world with. I thought I had it all sorted out. Jarmara was a cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea
), Taci and Kali were giant scimitar cats (Homotherium crenatidens
), they'd meet cave hyenas and giant cheetahs and it was going to be awesome. Only that at a closer look, nothing worked out.
What I wanted for my story was a cave lion, albeit mighty in his own right, meeting a couple of scimitar cats who were to him what orcs are to us: Huge, primitive, able to crazy feats of strength. Mammoth hunters!
Sure enough, both lions and Homotherium coexisted for much of the Pleistocene, but the species changed.
- In the Late Pleistocene, it's unclear if Homotherium latidens survived. We have only one single jaw bone from that time. And Homotherium latidens was even smaller than the cave lions of that time, Panthera leo spelaea, which had evolved form the larger Mosbach lion. Those lions were still larger than today's cats, but the story premise would also not work that way.
and Panthera leo spelaea
are separated by half a million years! Not too much in geological terms, but still a lot of time. Take a moment to think about how much time that is, and you'll probably agree.
Nobody would probably care, but since I always dreamed of creating a story that was educational to a degree, the thought to put species together that never met really bothers me!
What about some of the other predators that they'd have encountered?
- Hyenas: In all ages, hyenas would have shared the habitat of Homotherium, the open plains. Homotherium was a chaser and cursorial hunter. The smaller, later Homotherii with their sloping backs and long front legs even showed similar adaptions like those of hyenas.
In the Early Pleistocene, we have the giant short-faced hyena (Pachycrocuta brevirostris), the largest hyena there ever was. In the Late Pleistocene, the cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) roamed the plains, which was about half the weight of the short-faced hyena. The change appeared around 500.000 B.C., when one species died out and the other is first found.
- Cheetahs: I found it hard to find a time range for the giant cheetah (Acinonyx pardinensis). One source said it didn't survive until the Late Pleistocene in Europe, others name the entire Pleistocene epoch. I confess, I'd really like the giant cheetah in the story.
- Wolves: Would have shared the habitat of the cave lion species in all ages, the wooded areas. Yup, those were forest lions, and the hyenas were better adapted to the plains, but wolves will definitely feature in a way or another.
Here's more animal facts that I found remarkable:
- Panthera leo spelaea was known to steal and eat the cubs of cave bears! Often enough, momma bear would intervene and slay the lion in their den, leaving their bones for us to find thousands of years later.
- The giant cheetah was probably even faster than today's cheetah, even though its weight would have compensated for some of it.
- Cave hyenas were badass enough to attack woolly rhinos. Never heared of spotted hyenas trying the same in Africa. Also, they snacked on wolves and cave lions when they found them dead.
- Short-faced hyenas were probably too heavy to kill as effectively as cave hyenas and modern hyenas and were scavengers more than active hunters. Nearly 200 kg of hungry hyena coming for your meal - that's something to take seriously.
- Homotherium would have had a hard time killing a fully grown mammoth, but also an infant, since those were protected by the herd. They successfully went after individuals up to 5 years old, though. Today, a group of lions in Savuti target elephants in a similar way.
EDIT Feb 15th: Edited fo' science!
I got a couple of things wrong on the first try. I had to put Middle Pleistocene in its own paragraph, because much of the extinction and evolution of the individual species happened there. For example, no more lions in the European Early Pleistocene! The Mosbach lion actually appeared only in the Middle, and it is 'only' documented for a time span of 400.000 years before it was replaced by the Upper Pleistocene cave lion. Oh.
And, and this is interesting, while in America, Homotherium is documented until 10.000 years ago, in Europe, we only have one single mandible from the late Pleistocene. This could mean a number of things:
a) Humans put it in its location long after the species died out. (-> Later cave lion never met sabertooths, not even the small ones!!!)
b) Homotherium latidens re-immigrated from America a couple of times but never stayed long (meaning, species can pop up in unexpected places and times and we wouldn't know)
c) It was there all the time, only the fossil record sucks (rendering all dates even more fuzzy and malleable)
See all those huge gray areas that could be exploited to move species and dates around...?
So, what to do, once again?
I'll set the story around 500.000 B.C. As much as I disliked the idea: Jarmara is going to be a Panthera leo fossilis, but he won't be fully grown by the time that he meets the scimitar cats. The "whoa" effect comes from the fact that his kind knows the smaller sabers, Homotherium latidens who were actually around during that time. But picking up the "re-immigration" idea, you still get the occasional "crenatidens" primitive homotheres. If you're only used to the itty bitty ones, seeing those would still be kind of a shocking experience.
Hyenas: cave hyenas freshly arrived on the scene, short-faced hyena already died out or dying out.
Cheetahs: yes, sir!
Mammoths: Steppe mammoth (big huge giant thing) still going strong! Woolly mammoth not to arrive until 250.000 years later.
And bam - you have a scientifically almost sound setting!