Students Name a Puma

As if working with Ice Age fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits wasn’t cool enough, the job comes with one pretty unforgettable perk.

Teens helping out in the Fossil Lab as part of La Brea Tar Pits Teen Program

As if working with Ice Age fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits wasn’t cool enough, the job comes with one pretty unforgettable perk: if you’re the person assigned to work on a particular fossil, you get to give it a nickname. Zed the Columbian mammoth, Fluffy the American lion, and Ghost the dire wolf are just a few examples of how fun and geeky we get behind the scenes. When Tar Pits Lab Manager Stephany Potze was given a mountain lion skull to clean, she came up with a brilliant way to give a stellar specimen a unique nickname.

First off: mountain lions. These felines prowled through Ice Age Los Angeles right alongside saber-toothed cats and American lions. They are incredibly resilient survivors, weathering the mass extinction that claimed species like the saber-tooth, and living on to become our neighbors as the city grew up around them. Their fossils are also extremely rare finds at the Tar Pits. The particular skull that Potze worked on is only the third mountain lion individual discovered in more than 100 years of paleontological excavation at Rancho La Brea, compared to more than 2,500 saber-toothed cats!

Instead of naming the specimen herself, Potze wanted to include the L.A. community in a fascinating bit of history, so they opened up the naming rights to local schools. Almost 70 classrooms from across Los Angeles submitted their best puma name ideas. The winner: Pebbles, a submission from teacher Darius Ramos’s class of kindergarteners at Lindbergh Elementary in Lynwood. The students had just wrapped up a unit about different types of rocks and noticed that the puma’s nose appeared to have many little pebbles inside.

On top of picking the name of an incredibly rare fossil, the students got a special classroom visit from museum scientists and educators, who presented them with a 3D printed version of the skull they had named, as well as an imprint of a paw of the (living and famous) mountain lion P-22. In Ramos’s words, “My students felt so special. It was truly a day to remember!” School Programs couldn’t have been happier to host such a passionate group of students.

“Their visit to the Tar Pits was filled with amazement, wonder, and curiosity; it was a wonderful group of kids with an amazing teacher,” they said.

Fully cleaned and prepared, Pebbles will join the ranks of other Tar Pits favorites like Zed and Fluffy, part of a massive research collection that gives unparalleled insight into the ecosystem of ancient Southern California for scientists around the world. We hope that when the young scientists who named the specimen are old enough to come back and officially volunteer, they’ll stop in for a behind-the-scenes visit with their puma pal.