Tiger Taxonomy and Evolution
Understanding the evolution of the tiger is very important. Yet with so many of the subspecies already extinct and others in critical danger, the focus has been on conservation rather than on exploring what has occurred in the past. The funding and resources that are available are found to be put to better us to protect those that still remain.
What we do know is that they were first documented in 1929 by Taxonomist Reginald Innes Pocock. He classified them under the genus of Pathera. This is a name that originates from the oriental heritage and the Greek word panther.
Both China and Java have been locations where older remains of tiger like cats have been found. It is believed they date more than 2 million years ago, and that this was the beginning of the Pleistocene period. They are smaller than the tiger we know today, with fossil remains being very distinct to areas of China and Sumatra. The fossil remains at Java are believed to be about 1.2 million years old.
From such information, it is believed that tigers found their way into the North part of Asia and around India in the late Pleistocene period. There have been fossils found in Japan and Sakhalin that indicate they were able to survive and that they were smaller than the tigers of today. One theory is that the bodies were smaller due to the environmental amount of space they had and the types of prey they had to consume during those time periods.
It is believed that Borneo, the Philippines, and the Island of Palawan were all home to the early cat like tigers until the Holocene period. What is very interesting is that there is information to link the first mammals to a time of about 208 million years ago. Yet the Age of Mammals is considered to be about 65 million years ago, when all of the dinosaurs were already gone.
Evidence of the first carnivores dates about 60 million to 80 million years ago. It is believed they were about the size of today’s domestic cats. They could have weighed from 2 to 7 pounds and they likely lived in the trees. They also featured very sharp teeth that allowed them to crush and to cut their prey. The oldest recorded ancestors of the tiger are the Miacoids.
Approximately 40 million years ago, the carnivores are believed to have split into two groups – the Caniformia and the Feliformia. The Feliformia are those that are cat light including hyenas and cats. Later, the hyenas further split from the Feliformia, approximately 35 million years ago.
The oldest of the cat records is Proailurus in the fossil records. They are native to the area around France. They weighed about 25 pounds and were about 30 inches long. They lived in trees and had 8 more teeth than the modern cats today have. This is a significant change that occurred through evolution.
The cats that are dated in fossil records about 20 million years ago are the Psudaelurines. They are considered to be the direct ancestors of all 37 of the modern day cat species. About 1.6 million years ago the Smilodon emerged according to fossil records. This is known as the Sabertoothed Cat. These fossils were found in tar pits in the area known as Los Angeles California today. They are believed to have been extinct about 10,000 years ago. All of this adds up to plenty of ancestral elements in place for the tigers that we know today. There are still plenty of mysteries that remain. Perhaps one day new fossil findings and improved technology will give us additional clues.