The Loh Down On Science

Why picky cats didn't have nine lives

Image courtesy of Yeakel and others, Proc. of the Royal Society B, 2013.

Locations of Late Pleistocene mammoth steppe sites included in the analysis. Inset is of Western Europe.

Hey kids, can being too picky about your food make you extinct?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying perhaps yes, if you were an Ice Age predator.  In Eurasia, wolves, bears, and saber-toothed cats were that era’s foremost hunters.  Today, wolves and bears are still with us but the cats are gone.  Why?

Most experts think the big cats died out from starvation, but haven’t worked out the details.  A new study suggests that it wasn’t the amount of prey available, but the variety.  Namely, the cats were just too darn picky about what they ate!

Researchers looked at data on ice-age bone fossils.  Chemical traces in the bones helped them reconstruct predator diets at six different locations.

They found that wolves and bears hunted different prey at different locations—They ate whatever was available where they happened to be.

But the big cats hunted only caribou—regardless of location. So, when their favorite meal moved on or disappeared, they paid the price for being choosy.

So eat your broccoli, everyone.  And meatloaf.  And this leftover salad!   Not that mom wants to scare you.  Much.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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