Mammal Collections

Rancho La Brea holds one of the world's richest collections of a single mammal community through time, spanning the last Ice Age, the arrival of humans in North America, and the ongoing transformations of urban Los Angeles. Our most common mammals include dire wolves (Canis dirus), saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), and coyotes (Canis latrans)—all carnivores!

Historically, the majority of the mammals excavated from our deposits have been large carnivores, supporting a hypothesized "carnivore trap" in which large herbivores entrapped in asphalt attracted predators and scavengers, who themselves became entrapped while trying to steal a quick meal. The Ancient bison (Bison antiquus) is the most common large herbivore and is represented by at least 300 individuals, many of them young. New research with an eye towards microfossils has revealed a stunning diversity and abundance of small mammals, and studies of associated sediments have uncovered new taphonomic environments that preserved clues to their behaviors and broader ecological context.

Our collections contain species that represent the last 50,000 years of southern California life. Many groups are still alive today, such as coyotes, mountain lions, woodrats, bats, shrews, rabbits, black bears, and raccoons. Others went extinct during the Late Pleistocene, including giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, mastodons, mammoths, tapirs, camels, and horses. The fossils from Rancho La Brea also hold clues to how humans have more recently shaped California's mammal communities through the historic extirpations of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), and ongoing introductions of non-native species such as Eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) in the Anthropocene.

Did you know that grizzly bears used to live in California! Find out more here.

Check out the story of our rare puma skull and how it got a nickname! 


The following taxonomic list has been taken directly from the following reference but revisions may be necessary. 

Stock, C. 1992. Rancho La Brea: A record of Pleistocene life in California. 7th ed. Revised by J.M. Harris. Science Series no.37. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 113 pp.

† = extinct
¶ = Holocene record only
‡ = represented by artifactual material

Order Insectivora
Family Soricidae (shrews)
Sorex ornatus Merriam, 1895 (ornate shrew)
Notiosorex crawfordi (Coues, 1877) (Crawford's gray shrew)

Family Talpidae (moles)
Scapanus latimanus (Bachman, 1842) (broad-footed mole)

Order Primates
Family Hominidae (great apes)
Homo sapiens Linnaeus, 1758 ¶ (human)

Order Chiroptera
Family Vespertilionidae (bats)
Lasiurus cinereus (Palisot de Deauvois, 1796) (Hoary bat)
Antrozous pallidus (Le Conte, 1856) (Pallid bat)

Order Xenarthra 
Family Megalonychidae (ground sloths)
Megalonyx jeffersonii (Desmarest, 1822) † (Jefferson's ground sloth)

Family Megatheridae (ground sloths)
Nothrotheriops shastensis (Sinclair, 1905) † (Shasta ground sloth)

Family Mylodontidae (ground sloths)
Paramylodon harlani (Owen, 1840) † (Harlan's ground sloth)

Order Lagomorpha 
Family Leporidae (rabbits and hares)
Sylvilagus audubonii (Baird, 1858) (desert cottontail)
Sylvilagus bachmani (Waterhouse, 1839) (brush rabbit)
Lepus californicus Gray, 1837 (black-tailed jackrabbit)

Order Rodentia 
Family Sciuridae (squirrels)
Otospermophilus beecheyi (Richardson, 1823) (California ground squirrel )
Tamias cf. T. merriami (Allen, 1889) (Merriam's chipmunks )

Family Geomyidae (pocket gophers)
Thomomys bottae (Eydoux and Gervais, 1836) (Botta's pocket gopher)

Family Heteromyidae (kangaroo rats and pocket mice)
Dipodomys agilis Gambel, 1848 (agile kangaroo rat)
Perognathus californicus Merriam, 1889 (pocket mouse)

Family Cricetidae (rats, mice, and voles)
Reithrodontomys megalotis (Baird, 1858) (western harvest mouse )
Peromyscus imperfectus Dice, 1925 † (deer mouse)
Onychomys torridus (Coues, 1874) (southern grasshopper mouse)
Neotoma fuscipes Baird, 1858 (dusky-footed woodrat)
Microtus californicus (Peale, 1848) (California vole)

Order Carnivora 
Family Mustelidae (weasels, badgers, and skunks)
Mustela frenata Lichtenstein, 1831 (long-tailed weasel)
Taxidea taxus (Schreber, 1778) (American badger)
Spilogale putorius (Linnaeus, 1758 ) (spotted skunk)
Mephitis mephitis (Schreber, 1776) (striped skunk)

Family Canidae (dogs)
Canis latrans Say, 1823 (coyote)
Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758 (gray wolf)
Canis familiaris Linnaeus, 1758 (domestic dog)
Canis dirus Leidy, 1858 † (dire wolf)
Urocyon cinereoargenteus (Schreber, 1775) (gray fox)

Family Procyonidae (racoons and ringtails)
Procyon lotor (Linnaeus, 1758) (raccoon)
Bassariscus astutus (Lichtenstein, 1830) (ringtail)

Family Ursidae (bears)
Arctodus simus (Cope, 1879 ) † (short-faced bear)
Ursus americanus Pallas, 1780 (American black bear)
Ursus arctos horribilis (Ord, 1815) ¶ (grizzly bear)

Family Felidae (cats)
Smilodon fatalis (Leidy, 1868) † (sabertoothed cat)
Smilodon fatalis brevipes (Merriam and Stock, 1932) † (sabertoothed cat)
Homotherium serum (Cope, 1893) † (sabertoothed cat)
Panthera atrox (Leidy, 1853) † (American lion)
Panthera onca augusta (Simpson, 1941) † (giant jaguar)
Puma concolor Linnaeus, 1758 (cougar)
Felis sp. 
Lynx rufus (Shreber, 1777) (bobcat)

Order Proboscidea
Family Mammutidae (mastodons)
Mammut americanum (Kerr, 1791) † (American mastodon)

Family Elephantidae (elephants)
Mammuthus columbi (Falconer, 1857) † (Columbian mammoth)

Order Perissodactyla 
Family Equidae (horses)
Equus cf. E.  occidentalis Leidy, 1865 † (western horse)
Equus conversidens Owen, 1869 † (mexican horse)

Family Tapiridae (tapirs)
Tapirus californicus Merriam, 1913 † (California tapir)

Order Artiodactyla 
Family Tayassuidae (peccaries)
Platygonus cf. P. compressus LeConte, 1848 † fFlat-headed peccary)

Family Camelidae (camels)
Camelops hesternus (Leidy, 1854) † (yesterday's camel)
Hemiauchenia macrocephala (Cope, 1893) † (large-headed llama)

Family Cervidae (deer)
Odocoileus cf. O. hemionus (Rafinesque, 1817) (mule deer)
Cervus cf. C. elaphus (Linnaeus, 1758) ¶ ‡ (red deer)

Family Antilocapridae (New World antelope)
Capromeryx minor Taylor, 1911 † (dwarf pronghorn)
Antilocapra americana (Ord, 1815) (pronghorn)

Family Bovidae (cattle)
Euceratherium sp. cf.  E. collinum Furlong and Sinclair, 1904 † (shrub-ox)
Bison latifrons (Harlan, 1825) † (long-horned bison)
Bison antiquus Leidy, 1852 † (antique bison)
Ovis aries Linnaeus, 1758 ¶ (domestic sheep)