Normally when fossils of pre-historic animals are discovered, they are usually bigger than their modern-day relatives. This however, does not seem to be true in the case of the modern-day tiger who looks very much like its predecessor, but is surprisingly, a lot bigger.
The revelations were made by scientists after examining the oldest skull found-to-date of an extinct species of a Pantherine big cat. While its modern day relative can grow up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 660 lbs, this fossil, which has been identified as a sister species, was much smaller - about the size of the Jaguar.
However that seems to be the only big difference found, when this specimen believed to be between 2.15 to 2.55 million years old, was examined in detail. Similar to the modern-day big cat, it had well developed upper canine fangs and a relatively long nose - leading experts to conclude that its diet was pretty much the same as today - Comprising of smaller animals like pigs and deer.
As to the reason the modern day counterpart is much bigger? Scientists think that the animals simply evolved as the size of their prey increased.
Affectionately dubbed the Longdan Tiger, because it was discovered on the eastern slope of Longdan, a village in Gansu, China, the skull which predates ones previously discovered by almost half-a-million years, was actually unearthed in 2004. However, it was only recently that experts began analyzing what is now being touted as an important find - One that will hopefully lead to more discoveries and, help fill the gaps in the evolutionary history of these big cats.
Tigers are the largest members of the cat family and, one of the most endangered. Over the years their numbers have fallen by about 95 percent and only 5,000 to 7,000 are now believed to exist in the wild. Sadly, their deaths can be largely blamed on humans. Over the years, they have been trapped, hunted and even poisoned, not because they posed a threat, but largely for sports, trophies, skins and medicine. While intense efforts are underway to reverse this trend, illegal poachers still hunt them down, especially in China, where the numbers have dropped from 100,000 in the early 1900's to about 4,000 today.
Resources: news.yahoo.com, dailymail.co.uk,edu.pe.ca