A recent finding of an extinct species of Arctic lion is so well preserved that it's like peering straight into prehistory, at an animal that was once an apex predator during the Pleistocene ice ages.
PHOTO BREAK: 11 animals that mate for life
The remains of two so-called "cave lion" cubs were unearthed from Siberian permafrost, still with hair and flesh attached, reports the Siberian Times. They are believed to be at least 10,000 years old, though appear frozen in time. The discovery represents the best preserved specimens of this species ever discovered, by a long shot. All that had been previously found of cave lions in the area were some skulls and fragments of teeth and bones, leaving images of this creature mostly up to the imagination.
Before this discovery, researchers mostly consulted ancient cave paintings, ivory carvings and clay figurines for depictions of what the animal looked like. Representations indicate cave lions had rounded, protruding ears, tufted tails and possibly faint tiger-like stripes. Analysis of these cubs will give researchers the most complete picture of these majestic creatures yet.
Usually people think of lions as warm-weather hunters, stalkers of the tropical and subtropical grasslands. Cave lions, however, were Arctic predators. They lived in the Pleistocene, during a time when megafauna roamed the Earth. Indeed, cave lions are believed to be among the largest lions in history, with a shoulder height of around 3.9 feet and a head-body length of 6.9 feet without the tail.
Genetic analysis on previously found remains has indicated that Eurasian cave lions, which roamed throughout northern Europe, Asia and North America, are actually most closely related to modern Afro-Asiatic lions. They are called cave lions because most of the remains that have been discovered were found preserved in caves, but it's unclear if caves were where these lions actually lived. They were likely at home among the conifer forests and northern grasslands where their prey roamed, with a wide habitat tolerance.
"The find is sensational, no doubt," said a source close to the discovery.
So far, most of the significant details and pictures of the finds are being closely guarded, but more will be released as the remains are carefully analyzed.