By: Matthew Vassilakos
Summary. In 2018 a man, searching for mammoth tusks in the permafrost of Siberia, found a cave lion cub that was almost perfectly preserved. This is believed to be one of the best-preserved specimens of any animal from the last Ice Age. This cub nicknamed Sparta is believed to be almost 28,000 years old. It was the second cub found in this location but the other, found 15 months before, is around 43,000 years old. They were initially thought to be siblings due to the similar appearance and location of discovery. It was only once the cubs were brought to the lab and radiocarbon dating was used that it was discovered the two cubs differed in age by around 15,000 years. These cubs were both estimated to be between one and two months based on their teeth, however when compared to modern African lion cubs the teeth of the cave lion cubs were developing slower. The researchers also could look at the hair of the cub because it was so well preserved. It was a greyish to light brown, this shows they had fur better adapted for the cold, white winters of northern Eurasia. It is likely that the cave lion cubs were buried quickly, a mudslide was suggested as a possible explanation for why they were preserved so well. Amazingly Sparta even has some of her mother’s milk still preserved inside of her. This allowed scientists to accurately determine what a fully grown cave lion’s diet could have looked like without finding an adult with food still in its stomach. Researchers from Russia, United States, France, Sweden, United Kingdom and Japan all collaborated on studies trying to figure out all they could from the two cave lion cubs that were found in this location.
Why we should care? We should care about this because we can learn about these animals, how they lived and what caused them to go extinct. We can use this knowledge to help protect the species still with us today.
I enjoyed this article because it was very informative about the cave lion cubs. However, the best part of the article was the included video. The video showed a lot of the process of how the cave lion cub was found and extracted from the permafrost. You can see how the how it was “mined” out of the cave and how ice was broken off the body to reveal the cave lion cub that anyone who has seen the lion king could recognize. It also provided interesting insights that the person who found the cub was not even looking for it, showing sometimes people accidentally stumble upon important scientific discoveries without even trying to.
Science in Action.
Dr. Love Dalén is a Professor in Evolutionary Genetics at the Department of Bioinformatics and Genetics, Swedish Museum of Natural History.
Professor Dalén works using DNA technology to study the evolution of different species, past and present. He also looks at how environmental changes in the past effect the distribution and abundance of species today on Earth. He studies animals ranging from rhinos and mammoths to cave lions and lemmings. He looks at genetic variation, population structure and population size have changed over time, especially as a result of climate during the Late Pleistocene (Last Ice Age). His work is relevant to the cave lion cubs because he was one of the leading researchers looking at the cubs and determining how they lived. He has done the same with other animals, as mentioned above. The work Professor Dalén does can help us to protect the animals we still have by looking at the ones we have lost.