The American Lion

The largest cat to roam North America during the Pleistocene was the American Lion (Panthera atrox). Panthera atrox is Latin for “fearsome panther.”

About 25% higher than today’s African Lion, the American Lion ranged between 5 and 8 feet in length and weight between 500 and 800 pounds.

When Did the American Lion Live?

Fossil evidence suggest that the American Lion existed between 340,000 years ago and 11,000 years ago. The extinction of the American Lion coincided with the extinction of other megafauna such as the mammoth.

Researchers aren’t sure of the reason why the American Lion went extinct. Hypotheses include competition with human hunters for food and the effects of climate change.

Where did American Lions Roam?

Evidence of American lions has been discovered to the north in southern Alaska, to the south in southern Mexico, to the east in Maryland, and to the west in California.

Drawing recreating what the American Lion looked like.  NPS illustration by Benji Paysnoe.
Drawing recreating what the American Lion looked like. NPS illustration by Benji Paysnoe.

Fossil evidence for the American Lion has not been discovered in northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Since those areas were covered in boreal forests during the Pleistocene, researchers hypothesize that the American Lion preferred open grassland as its habitat.

La Brea Tar Pits

80 individual American Lions have been recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Two-thirds of those lions recovered have been males.

Like the African Lion, the American Lion is believed to have grouped together in small prides.

What Did American Lion Eat?

A carnivore, the American Lion was believed to have hunted Pleistocene mammals such as horses, deer, camels, ground sloths, young mammoths, and bison.


American Lion. (n.d.). – White Sands.

The big cats (U.S. National Park Service). (2021, October 12). (U.S. National Park Service).

Extinct American lion (Panthera atrox) fact sheet. (2021, March 30). San Diego Wildlife Alliance.


Share this article: