A recent paleontological discovery by a team at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC has unveiled a new chapter in the ancient history of felines. Their findings, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, shed light on a previously unknown species of felid based on the analysis of a jawbone fossil found near present-day Madrid.
Previous studies have indicated that felines first emerged approximately 25 million years ago. However, this latest research reveals evidence of a feline ancestor that roamed the area around Madrid roughly 15.5 million years ago.
The remarkable discovery came in the form of a remarkably well-preserved hemimandible—a half of a lower jawbone—unearthed at the Príncipe Pío-2 excavation site in 2007. The site, initially earmarked for the extension of a metro station to a shopping center, yielded this invaluable fossil, now housed at the National Museum of Natural Sciences.
Upon meticulous examination, the research team identified the fossil as belonging to a previously unknown feline species, which they christened Magerifelis peignei. Through comparative analysis, they placed this ancient cat within a sister clade, sharing ancestry with modern species like Lynx pardinus. Notably, the cat exhibited a distinctive feature: a lower second molar—a trait exclusive to one modern cat species.
With an estimated weight of approximately 7.61 kg, this prehistoric feline surpassed the size of its modern domestic counterparts, rivalling the stature of contemporary lynxes or bobcats. Its robust hemimandible hinted at a powerful bite, suggesting a predatory prowess capable of subduing sizable prey, likely through throat-tearing tactics. Interestingly, while possessing the ability to purr, the cat lacked the anatomical adaptations necessary for roaring.
Beyond its formidable characteristics, the fossil offers valuable insights into the evolutionary lineage of felines, particularly with regard to the significance of its second molar. By bridging gaps in the evolutionary narrative, this discovery enriches our understanding of the ancient origins and adaptations of one of nature's most iconic predators.