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 (https://chasingsabretooths.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/flying-over-the-miocene-of-madrid-and-then-over-africa/) 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.
Finally, here is the link to our scientific description of the Sansan skeleton.