Denizens of Madrid’s Miocene woods: the early cat Styriofelis

The city of Madrid is built upon an enormous extension of sedimentary rock of Miocene age, so that whenever people dig on its soil, fossils from the “Age of Mammals” are more than likely to appear.
Most fossil sites in the city are of Aragonian age (the Aragonian is a section of the middle Miocene ranging between some15 and 11 Million years ago), and while the bird’s eye view shown in a previous post ( revealed a rather arid landscape, the fact is there was a variety of environments, from dry, open prairies to shadowy woodlands in the margins of water courses and in sheltered valleys. The water currents coming downhill would collect the remains of animals from different environments and accumulate them downstream in low-lying areas, which would become the fossil sites.
One animal you would meet in the wooded places was the early cat Styriofelis. This was one of the earliest members of the “feline” half of the cat family, while the larger Pseudaelurus, which lived at the same time, was among the first of the sabertooths. For a long time Styriofelis was known only on the basis of cranial fragments and dentitions, but back in the early 1990s the finding of an almost complete skeleton from the site of Sansan in France gave us a much more complete picture of the middle Miocene felines.
Shortly after the discovery, the French paleontologist Leonard Ginsburg kindly sent me a collection of photos and measurements of the individual bones of S. lorteti (which back in those years was still known as “Pseudaelurus lorteti”). Many years later when Leonard sadly passed away, we published a detailed description of the skeleton in a scientific volume dedicated to his memory.
As revealed by the Sansan fossil, Styriofelis lorteti was a cat about the size of a large lynx, with relatively short forelimbs and quite long hindlimbs. Such body proportions suggest good climbing abilities and a preference for wooded habitats.

Here is a combined reconstruction of the skeleton and life appearance of Styriofelis lorteti based on the Sansan fossils.
lorteti-skel-life combinado baja

And here is the reconstructed animal as it would have looked if we could find it in the Miocene woodlands of Madrid.

Finally, here is the link to our scientific description of the Sansan skeleton.

Posted on 13/06/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. These images are beautiful, especially the first one because it clothes the skeleton in a way that is very accessible for lay readers.

    There are very few images of Styriofelis available in a general Web search (and not much useful information, either). I wonder if there is any possible way that I might be allowed to use that image in my eBook “The First Cat,” written for the general public? Of course, it would be credited and with a link.

    Here’s the background to assist your decision-making. I’m a lay person with a degree in forestry, several undergraduate years in geology, and a recent new hobby/budding career as a science blogger. I have ghostwritten several content-mill articles on cat breeds and decided to focus on cats and use my science background for my first nonfiction eBook. While I don’t know any paleontologists or other geoscientists, I’ve been able to access a wealth of scientific papers and books through the University of Oregon in Eugene and Oregon State University in Corvallis. Cladograms blow me away but the general reasoning in the text often makes sense.

    I don’t usually consider artwork from the Internet valid, unless it’s from someone like Charles Knight, but I recognized your name, having seen it in several papers and also having read “The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives” by you and Alan Turner.

    Right now I am researching Proailurus and Pseudaelurus and have found the 2010 paper by Werdelin et al., “Phylogeny and evolution of cats (Felidae)” so useful that it’s my official guide through the maze of early felids – as a layperson, of course I can’t make any decisions myself for the readers on what was the first cat. I like the work of Werdelin et al. first because I can follow the argument in general terms and second because it presents a well-reasoned alternative – Styriofelis – to the traditional (I think) view that conical-toothed cats are descended through Schizailurus. I’d like to present both viewpoints and let the readers try to figure it out.

    I am also taking this unexpected opportunity to tell you that your illustrations for that paper are absolutely gorgeous!

    As for my book, I just couldn’t find any credible images of Styriofelis until today. I hope it would be possible to use the beautiful one in this post. I know you must be very busy, and my book isn’t due out until the end of November so there is no rush. If you could possibly let me know by early October, either in a reply here, through WordPress, or via Gmail using my pen name bjdeming, that would be terrific.

    Thank you for your consideration, and thank you also very much for sharing your knowledge and artwork with us all.

    Barb Beier
    a/k/a B. J. Deming

  2. Christian Halliwell

    Do you have any plans to post about Pseudaelurus quadridentatus anytime soon?

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