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Roger Weller, geology instructor

wellerr@cochise.edu


Sabre-Toothed Cat
by Nathan Aloisio
Historical Geology
Spring 2007
       

 

Sabre-Toothed Cat

          

 

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         One of the most amazing and feared creatures of the not so distant past was the Sabre-toothed Cat.  It is commonly believed that these large mammals hunted beasts as large as elephants; they were one of the most feared carnivores for the vast amount of the Cenozoic Period.  These beasts survived from about 36.6 mya to about 11,000 years ago.  They thrived in North America and Europe, and spread throughout Asia, Africa, and South America. The cats existed in grasslands, dense shrub covered areas, and pine forests.   

         Sabre-toothed Cats stayed close to the plant-eating animals that were their main diet
They hunted other herbivores such as Mastodons, horses, bison, Brontotheres, and Rhinoceroses.  Their thick elongated canines were used to stab into the heavy hides of their prey; the cats could open their mouth at an amazing 120-degree angle.  These extinct species of Felidae (cats) had big muscular neck muscles that worked its jaw like a clamp.  Their forequarters were extremely strong for grasping on to prey, but their hind limbs were much weaker.  These animals were fast to attack, intelligent, had mighty strength, and deadly sharp claws and teeth.  During the Lower Oligocene to the Lower Miocene geologic time period, Hoplophoneus and Dinictis roamed North America, and were 3 to 5 ft. in length.

 

The image “http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/faq/fossils/smilodon_265f.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The image “http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/geschiedenis%20aarde/sabeltandtijger2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.              The image “http://www.zivotinjsko-carstvo.com/macke/slike/clip_image003.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

                  Hoplophoneus                                                                                 Dinictis

 

         The Sabre-toothed Cats (Machairodontinae) appeared during the Eocene Period.  There were many different types of Sabre-toothed Cats.  The Dinictis, one variety of Sabre-toothed Cats, has a close connection with the modern day “cats” (Felinae) and Machairodontinae, and had canines that were much shorter, more like another saber-cat species called Nimravinae.  Around the Miocene Period the cats became scarce in North America, but were still common in many other places.  Into the Pliocene, a new species emerged called Machairodus, which grew to the size of a lion.  Elsewhere in Europe and the Mediterranean, during the Lower Pleistocene, a smaller cat (Megantereon) was abundant, about the size of a small panther.  There were many into Africa and Asia, and they may have even crossed the Bering Strait into North America.   

 

 

 

The image “http://www.pangaeadesigns.com/_graphics/page/whatsnew/machairodusskull.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.                The image “http://www.boneclones.com/images/BC_106.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. 

             Machairodus Skull                                                  Megantereon Skull (China)

 

        

         Along with Megantereon emerged Homotherium “the sword toothed cat”, which had compressed, very sharp canines of moderate length, and cheek teeth that were also razor sharp.  Homotherium lived in China about three million years ago during the mid-Pleistocene, and became abundant in North America by the Upper Pleistocene.  It had a shorter lumbar section, was generally longer, and had very long forelimbs.  With these proportions it may have been difficult for the cat to jump and leap.  These findings place the species with closer characteristics of a Hyena, and it may have very well scavenged and attacked for food.  It did, however, easily have the ability to take down a large prey if needed.  It likely preyed on small, younger elephants because bones and teeth of baby mammoths have been discovered in the cat’s dens in Texas.  The color of the animal’s fur is very hard to distinguish from just fossil remains, but its color sequence may have adapted to its environment and habitat.  This species disappeared around 500,000 years ago.


         Into the Upper Pleistocene, a short-tailed Smilodon evolved in North America.  This species first appeared about 1.6 mya, and had a drastic evolutionary change with the lower jaw flanges missing, even though the massive incisors still remained.  These predators weighed up to 440 Lbs., and are believed to have ambushed their prey, much like modern day cats.  Their short legs limited their running speed, making it important that the attack was quick and thorough.  The cat’s likely plan was to grasp the prey and pierce the abdomen with its 7-8” long serrated canines, and let the animal bleed to death, then consume its meal.  There have been many fossils discovered that display injuries or diseases that the animal had managed to overcome.  This suggests that Saber-tooth’s may have lived in pacts or groups, caring for the sick and older members. 

 

    Smilodon

Smilodon Populator

Fuller fiew of the Saber tooth attacking the Giant Sloth

                                                          Display in the George C. Page Museum-- Smilodon (fatalis) attacking Giant Sloth

 

         By this time, at the end of the Pleistocene many large herbivores were dying out, and the main food supply of the Sabre-Toothed cats were disappearing, this is believed to have brought about their extinction. Smilodon is the fossil mammal that has been discovered in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and became extinct around 11,000 years ago.  The tar pits are an oil rich, sticky asphalt deposit that trapped many animals, prey and predator, over thousands of years.  The composition of this material makes it ideal for preservation, and many perfect fossilized specimens have been unearthed from this location, including numerous Sabre-Toothed cats. 

 

Scene depicting La Brea Tar Pits feeding frenzy

 

         Many people call the Sabre-Toothed cat by mistake a Sabre-Toothed tiger, the assumption is incorrect, because the only reason they are related tigers is because they are also related to cats.  They are actually classified in a separate group, more similarly matching a bobcat and hyena, because of their shortened tail. 

   

The multiple genera of Sabre-Toothed Cats/Regions/Time Period

Genus Name

Number of Species

Times

Regions

Smilodon

6

2.5 MYA to 8,000 YA

North America

Hoplophoneus

5

33.7 MYA to 23.8 MYA

North and South America

Eusmilis

3

30.5 MYA to 28 MYA

Europe, North America, South America

Dinictis

4

40 MYA to 25 MYA

North America

Dinaelurus

1

?

North America

Dinailurictis

1

?

?

Eofelis

1

?

?

Nimravidus (Nimravides)

2

?

?

Nimravus (Nimravinus)

6

33.5 MYA to 20 MYA

Europe and North America

Nimraviscus

1

?

?

Pogonodon

2

15 MYA to 6 MYA

Europe and North America

Quercylurus

1

?

?

Archaelurus

1

?

?

Aelurogale (Ailurictis)

1

?

?

Ictidailurus

1

?

?

Albanosmilus

3

18 MYA to 3 MYA

Africa and Eurasia

Afrosmilus

1

25 MYA to 10 MYA

Africa

Barbourofelis

7

15 MYA to 3 MYA

Africa and Eurasia

Ginsburgsmilus

1

23 MYA to 10 MYA

Africa

Prosansanosmilus

2

18 MYA to 5 MYA

Africa and Eurasia

Sansanosmilus

3

12 MYA to 3 MYA

Africa and Eurasia

Syrtosmilus

1

23 MYA to 8 MYA

Africa

Vampyrictis

1

15 MYA to 3 MYA

Africa and Eurasia

Vishnusmilus

1

?

?

Homotherium

10

3 MYA to 10,000 YA

Europe and Asia

Miracinonyx

2

3.2 MYA to 10,000 YA

North America

Thylacosmilus (marsupial)

2

10 MYA to 1.8 MYA

South America

Metailurus

9

15 MYA to 8 MYA

Eurasia

Adelphailurus

1

23 MYA to 5 MYA

Kansas (North America)

Paramachairodus

3

20-15 MYA to 9 MYA

Europe

Machairodus (Ancestral to Homotherium)

18

15 MYA to 2 MYA

Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America

Megantereon

8

3 MYA to 9,000 YA

Africa, Eurasia, and North America

Dinofelis

6

5 MYA to 1.5 MYA

Africa, Eurasia, North America

Therailurus

1

5 MYA to 2 MYA

Africa, Eurasia, North America

Pontosmilus

4

20 MYA to 9 MYA

Eurasia

Proailurus

2

30 MYA to 20 MYA

Europe, North America

Pseudaelurus

1

20 MYA to 10 MYA

Europe, North America

Xenosmilus (1 specimen)

1

1.7 MYA to 1 MYA

Central Florida (North America)

Stenailurus

1

(?)

(?)

Dinobastis

1

(?)

Asia

Epimachairodus

1

(?)

(?)

Miomachairodus

1

(?)

(?)

Hemimachairodus

1

(?)

(?)

Ischyrosmilus

1

(?)

(?)

 

A population of mammals as it may have looked during the Grecian Pleistocene

 

  

         About 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age, new plants emerged and the climate changed.  This in turn could have had an impact on the population of herbivores that the Sabre-Tooth’s relied upon so greatly.  Still, others debate that man may have had a hand in the demise of these great beasts, by killing off much of the plant-eating mammals.  These creatures are amazing, and the fact that they once roamed our planet is remarkable.  One can only imagine what it must have been like.  There are still new discoveries being unearthed with knowledge gained about their habitat, health, diet, etc., but there is much more knowledge that can be learned from them.  It is only a matter of time before we will get more secrets of the great Saber-Toothed Cat revealed.

 

 

 

 

Bronze Sabre Tooth Cat Skull on Bronze Stand

Saber-Toothed skull, bronze on bronze base- cast from an actual 20,000 year old skull excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles in the 90’s

 

 

 

La Brea Tar Pits Sabre-Toothed Cat
 

 

Work Cited

 

http://www.perceptions.couk.com/imgs/sabertooth.gif

http://www.bertsgeschiedenissite.nl/geschiedenis%20aarde/sabeltandtijger2.jpg

http://www.zivotinjsko-carstvo.com/macke/slike/clip_image003.jpg

http://www.boneclones.com/BC-106.htm

www.pangaeadesigns.com/whatsnew.php

www.westindiangirl.com/archives/2006_09_01_ar...

http://www.tarpits.org/

http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/mammals/smilodon/Smilodonprintout.shtml

prehistoricsillustrated.com/pw_smilodon.html

http://www.tarpits.org/education/guide/flora/sabert.html

www.paleocraft.com/homotherium.html

http://www.answers.com/topic/saber-toothed-cat

http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9377386/sabre-toothed-tiger

www.isgs.uiuc.edu/faq/fossils/pdq265.html

www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/794165/posts

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EPG/is_n2_v30/ai_17867803

www.sculpturegallery.com/sculpture/sabre_toot...

www.abc.net.au/.../factfiles/smilodon.htm

gocalifornia.about.com/bl_calalbtphoto_stc.htm

animal.discovery.com/.../episode/104.html

 

Steel, Rodney, and Anthony P. Harvey. The Encyclopedia of Prehistoric Life. England: Mitchell Beazley, 1979.

Norman, David. Prehistoric Life The Rise of the Vertebrates. London: Boxtree Ltd Broadwall House, 1994.