Extinct Carnivore Ancestor of Lions and Tigers and Bears? (Oh My!)

News to Know


Teeth and tarsals build an arboreal Belgian beast said to be the ancestor of cats, canines, and bears.

Carnivorous mammals—aka carnivoraforms—have been a puzzle for evolutionists trying to track their progress up the evolutionary tree of life and across the globe. An extinct animal dubbed Dormaalocyon latouri, known only from two teeth found in Lower Eocene rock near Dormaal, Belgium, is considered an evolutionary ancestor of modern carnivores.

Teeth, Teeth, and Tarsals

The recent discovery of 6 ankle bones (three each of two kinds), 4 lower jawbones, and 280 more teeth attributed to Dormaalocyon latouri has suggested great diversity in the species and painted a picture of an ancestral mammal scampering through the trees. Due to the variability in these teeth, evolutionists must assume carnivores had already evolved much complexity by the time this species arrived on the scene.

The paleontologists write that their analysis shows carnivoraforms “had become highly diversified by the early Eocene.”1 Based on the shapes of the two kinds of ankle bones (tarsals) that were found, the paleontologists believe that Dormaalocyon latouri was arboreal. Of course, no one actually knows what Dormaalocyon latouri looked like. No complete skeleton has been found, so the published reconstruction was highly speculative—drawn, as shown in the illustration, by plugging the two tarsals, a lower jaw, and teeth into another animal’s skeleton. And because the teeth, variable as they are, seem to have the sorts of basic shapes found in modern carnivores, the paleontologists believe the teeth belonged to a mammalian carnivore.

Floréal Solé, lead author of the 21-page dental analysis published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, believes the teeth and ankle bones enhance the evolutionary story of carnivores. He says, “Its description allows better understanding of the origination, variability and ecology of the earliest carnivoraforms.”


Image by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN) and Pascale Golinvaux (RBINS), via Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Evolving in the Evergreens


This and the above show reconstructions of Dormaalocyon latouri, an extinct animal for which no actual skeleton has ever been discovered. The only bones that have been recovered are circled in the diagram. Based on the shapes of two ankle bones (three specimens of each) and 280 teeth, paleontologists believe the animal was a primitive arboreal carnivorous mammal. They believe modern carnivorous mammals evolved from it. They wonder what its ancestors looked like, though, because the teeth are so variable they believe its evolutionary history needs to be discovered deeper in the fossil record. Images by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN) and Pascale Golinvaux (RBINS), via www.hngn.com

The teeth and tarsals are from Eocene rock conventionally dated at 55 million years. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology says, “The new finds even include the deciduous teeth (or ‘baby teeth’). The fact that these teeth are very primitive looking, and from a very early time, implies that Dormaalocyon is close to the origin of carnivoraforms, and that this origin may have been in Europe.” Furthermore, Solé and his colleagues consider their information to be good support for “the existence of a continuous evergreen forest belt at high latitudes during the PETM [Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum].” Warm, humid conditions that seem from the fossil record to have prevailed at the time as well as land bridges, they indicate, would have facilitated the diversification of mammals to distant regions of the globe.

“The understanding of the origination of the carnivoraforms is important for reconstructing the adaptation of placental mammals to carnivorous diet,” says Solé. “Therefore, Dormaalocyon provides information concerning the evolution of placental mammals after the disappearance of the largest dinosaurs (at the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event). Our study shows that the carnivoraforms were very diversified at the earliest Eocene, which allows hypothesizing that they were probably already diversified during the latest Paleocene.”

Ancestral Assumptions

Thus, because these teeth exist, evolutionary paleontologists believe there must be some simpler and more primitive predecessors yet to be found in order to satisfy the evolutionary paradigm and solve the mystery of just where lions, tigers, and bears came from. The existence of variety among the teeth, the evolutionary paleontologists believe, is evidence of the convergent evolution of “hypocarnivorous” and “hypercarnivorous”2 features within this species, for instance. They assume that this evolutionary divergence took place earlier and may have left evidence deeper in the fossil record.

The interpretation of the beast from Belgium as the ancestral answer to the origin of modern mammalian carnivores is based on a number of unverifiable assumptions. First of all, the paleontologists assume that the existence of a world full of living things is proof that all those living things evolved from a common ancestor. They assume that lining up and comparing the characteristics of fossils traces this evolutionary history. And they believe this evolutionary history despite the fact that biologists have never observed any kind of animal evolving into any other kind of animal. Neither have they discovered any way any kind of animal can acquire the genetic information necessary to evolve into a new more complex kind of organism.

Secondly, the 55-million-year age of the teeth rests on the worldview-based presuppositions used to interpret the fossil record. The millions of years are needed in order to allow for the never-observed biological evolution to presumably happen. Stripped of those assumptions, layers in the fossil record reveal the order in which animals were buried rather than the record of how long it took animals to evolve.

Post-Flood Forests and Land Bridges

The global Flood of Noah’s day, around 4,300 years ago, is recorded in biblical history in the book of Genesis (chapters 6–9), confirmed by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:38–39, and attested to in the fossil record. The Flood and post-Flood catastrophes swept away and sorted countless animals and plants and buried them in water-borne sediment.

The teeth and tarsals came from Eocene rock. Like the fossils in Germany’s Messel Pit fossil graveyard, the animals to which these teeth and bones belonged were likely buried suddenly and catastrophically amid the unstable conditions in the immediate aftermath of the global Flood of Noah’s day.

Furthermore, the Paleocene-Eocene boundary’s evidence of warm, humid conditions, extensive forestation, and land bridges facilitating animal migration are exactly what we would expect in the immediate aftermath of the global Flood. Answers in Genesis geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling explains:

We can regard this Paleocene/Eocene “thermal maximum” as a real effect and as due to the immediate after-effects of the Flood, with the warmer ocean water affecting the climate as a fore-runner to the subsequent onset of the Ice Age. The accompanying drop in sea level is said [in the associated journal publication] to be due to “eustatic” changes, which means that there was likely still a lot of vertical readjustments of continental land surface levels due to the weight of the Flood waters over them having been removed and the loss of weight of sediments eroded away or the weight of sediments added during and soon after the Flood. Thus some land bridges were likely. Ironically, we are accused of appealing to land bridges for post-Flood animal migrations and criticized accordingly, yet land bridges are acceptable in the naturalistic explanation of the same animal migrations.

Cat Kind or Common Carnivore?

So where did carnivorous mammals come from, if they did not evolve? According to God’s Word, about 6,000 years ago God created all kinds of animals during Creation Week. He created them fully functional and able to reproduce after their kinds. Thanks to the genetic information God put into each kind of animal, they are able to vary a lot but only within each created kind. This is exactly what we observe in biology.

Today, as we try to determine just what the original kinds of animals were like, biologists look at their characteristics as well as what sorts of animals are able to breed with each other. Answers in Genesis in conjunction with several outside scientists has been conducting research and review of the biological literature in order to determine this information, and the Answers Research Journal has published this information in articles such as “Mammalian Ark Kinds.”

In her analysis, Dr. Jean Lightner reports, for instance, that all cats—lions, tigers, and house cats included—are all best considered as variations of one created kind. They are all in the family Felidae. Felidae has two subfamilies, but members of these two subfamilies are known to hybridize.

The fact that all cats—big and small, cuddly and fierce—are varieties of the same created kind is also backed up by genetic evidence. For instance, Jong Bhak of South Korea’s Personal Genomic Institute in Suwon, who co-authored a recent study reporting the genomic sequence of the Siberian tiger, says, “Genetically all the cats are very close, so we need close genetic mapping to find the small differences that make them distinct. All the cats are unparalleled hunters, and here we are seeing some of the genetic reasons.”3

Bhak’s team found that 1,376 genes associated with strong muscle fibers and efficient protein digestion are commonly found in cats, equipping them for their carnivorous lifestyle. Bhak says, “I take this to indicate that [big cats] have evolved to fill a very particular carnivorous niche in the environment that is predicated on the advantages in hunting these genes provide.”4 However, variety among cats is not evolution, just variation within a created kind of animal.

There is no biological evidence for the divergence of canines, cats, and bears from a common carnivorous ancestor, however. Or even for their divergence from a common ancestor of any dietary preference, for that matter. Biological observation reveals that animals reproduce and vary only within their created kinds, so there is no scientific justification for insisting that in the unobservable past they evolved into more complex and divergent kinds of animals from a common ancestor.

Red in Tooth and Claw

What about carnivory? The world around us is indeed “red in tooth and claw.” This phrase is a reference to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s lengthy elegy to his friend, “In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850.” In Canto 56 Tennyson describes what many people see as a conflict between the loving character of God and the suffering surrounding us in the world. He wrote:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed.5

The Bible provides us with the answer—on God’s own authority—to Tennyson’s concern. That answer lies in our history. Death and bloodshed and suffering and carnivory exist as a result of mankind’s rebellion against God. The Bible’s book of Genesis tells us that God originally created a perfect world in which animals were vegetarians. After Adam and Eve rebelled against their Creator, God judged that they would eventually die, and that same curse affected the world that God had created for them. Read more about the origin of death and suffering in Dr. Terry Mortenson’s detailed explanation, “The Fall and the Problem of Millions of Years of Natural Evil.”

Had Adam and Eve not sinned, we would not be talking about the origin of carnivory. We would only be talking about the various kinds of vegetarian mammals that God created. For that matter, if people had not rebelled against God, we would not need articles like this to declare the truth of God’s Word. But since we do live in a world cursed by man’s rebellion and groaning under the painful results of refusing to glorify our Creator, we do write articles like this to encourage people to trust God’s Word from the very first verse, not only by acknowledging that God created us just as He said He did, but also by trusting that Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross to redeem us from the guilt and curse of sin and death.

Further Reading

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  1. F. Solé et al., “Dental and Tarsal Anatomy of ‘Miacis’ latouri and a Phylogenetic Analysis of the Earliest Carnivoraforms (Mammalia, Carnivoramorpha),” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 34, no. 1 (January 7, 2014): 1–21, doi:10.1080/02724634.2013.793195.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dan Vergano, “Tiger Genome Sequenced, Shows Big Cats Evolved to Kill,” National Geographic, September 17, 2013, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130917-tiger-genome-sequenced-siberian-lion-cats-science/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Canto 56 of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s elegy to his friend, “In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850.”


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