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Science / Space

Fossils Found in Polk County Lead to Discovery of Extinct Cat Species

If Florida is God’s waiting room, then Polk County must be the alcove reserved for his longtime patients.

Researchers have used 5-million-year-old fossils found in Polk County phosphate mines to identify a new genus and species of extinct saber-toothed cat.

Scientists had previously thought the animal's ancestors originated in the Old World and migrated to this side of the pond. But the latest findings, based on fossil acquisitions from the past three decades, make one thing clear: Just like Super Bowl champ Ray Lewis and former Mouseketeer Lindsey Alley, the new species  hails from closer to Polk County.

“The new species shows that the most famous saber-toothed cat, Smilodon, had a New World origin and it and its ancestors lived in the Southeastern U.S. for at least 5 million years before their extinction about 11,000 years ago,” said University of Florida paleontologist Richard Hulbert Jr., who co-wrote the study that appeared this week in the journal PLOS One. “Compared to what we knew about these earlier saber-toothed cats 20 or 30 years ago, we now have a much better understanding of this group.”

If only the same could be said for Ray Lewis and the Mouseketeers.