Scientists Determine Suspected Cause of Cave’s High Carnivore Ratio

May 6, 2013 / Spain, Europe
Early restoration depicting a saber-toothed tiger.

Early restoration depicting a saber-toothed tiger. Art by Lancelot Speed

Scientists examining a Spanish cave containing one of the largest concentrations of carnivores now believe they have uncovered the reason.

Discovered in 1991 near Madrid, Batallones-1 has long puzzled scientists with its unusually high concentration of carnivores.

With estimates that herbivore to carnivore ratio is generally about 10:1, and a fossil record that usually matches it, it’s strange that nearly 98% of the fossils in this cave came from meat eaters.

Although there have been many hypotheses as to how the animals ended up there, according to their study published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, the scientists now believe that the assortment of saber-toothed cats, hyenas, ancestors of the red panda and several other carnivores made their way into the cave intentionally.

By looking at a number of factors including formation of the cave, the orientation of the remains, and the scarcity of fractured bones or trampling marks, the researchers have determined that the animals most likely entered the cave in search of food or water believing that they could get out again. When they couldn’t, they ultimately starved to death, leaving their remains very well protected and preserved.

In contrast, the study suggests that the almost complete lack of herbivore remains may be due to a highly visible entrance that was easy to avoid.

Killer Entrance Suspected in Mystery of Unusually Large Group of Carnivores in Ancient Cave [Science Daily]

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Comments (1)

  1. Bill Nelson
    May 7, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Back in the late fifties, a group of us from the UVa Student Grotto found a cougar skeleton high on a ledge in a West Virginia cave. The animal had died peacefully, lying on its side. There were peculiar lumps of clay in the abdominal area, and we finally figured out that it had probably starved to death, and had been eating the cave mud, which remained in its intestines, leaving the semi-circular patterns of clay or mud as it decayed. I wonder if the fossils found had any similar unexplained clay lumps with them. My photos of the skeleton, with lumps, were published in the J Mammalia in the early sixties.


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