Digging Up the Past
Northeast of Lovell, Wyoming on the edge of the Bighorn Mountains is Natural Trap Cave. The cave floor has scattered remains from animals that have fallen in for about the past 20,000-100,000 years.
International scientists have been working in the cave for some time. According to the National Parks Service website, scientists have found more than 30,000 specimens in the cave, most of them extinct.
Some of the more interesting remains of extinct creatures Scientist have discovered include:
- American Cheetah
- Short-faced bear
- Stilt legged horse
- Caballine horse
- American Lion
According to Dr. Alan Cooper, the American cheetah’s skeleton looks just like the African cheetah’s skeleton; however, the American cheetah’s DNA shows it is closely related to the Puma. Over time, it evolved into a cheetah. It went extinct around 12,000 years ago so the remains are at least that old.
Dr. Cooper believes the American cheetah was faster than the African cheetah because the pronghorns native to that area today can run up to 60 mph meaning the American cheetah would have to run at least as fast to catch them.
The Short-faced bear was 5-6 ft tall at the shoulder walking on all fours and 8-12 ft tall when standing on its hind legs. It roamed from Alaska to Mississippi and went extinct around 11,000 years ago. Its long legs allowed it to run up to 40 mph while weighing around 1500 lbs.
The American lion was around 4 ft tall at the shoulder when on all fours and could weigh up to 770 lbs. It is not for sure, but evidence from the La Brea tar pits in California leads some scientists to believe it may have been a solitary hunter, also unlike today’s African lion.
The Bison discovered in Natural Trap Cave were about 20% larger than the bison found in the United States today. Other bison from that era have been said to be 25-50% larger than today’s bison. It had horns similar to those of a long horn cow. These extinct bison were a little over 8 ft tall at the shoulder and weighed around 4,400 lbs.