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Saber-Toothed Cats: The Predators of the Past

From the Eocene Epoch through the Pleistocene Epoch period (56 million – 11, 700 years ago), fearsome saber-toothed cats roamed the world's landscape. The cats were mainly found in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and South America. They were known for their unique pair of razor-sharp long canine teeth that protruded from their mouths even when the mouth was closed.

The distinctive canines could grow up to 8 inches giving the mammals power to inflict unfathomable piercing wounds. They were about the size of an African lion and could weigh up to 617lb and grow 39 inches tall.

The cats belonged to class Mammalia or mammal and either the Nimravidae family or the subfamily Felidae. 4 theories exist as to why the cats became extinct. One is lack of prey leading to starvation. Two is climate change. Another is competition from other species, and the last is humans damaging their habitat and hunting them. Below you will find more intriguing information about these fantastic cats.

What Did Saber-Toothed Cats Hunt?

Saber-tooth cats were carnivorous animals. They hunted large herbivores like horses, bison, young mammoths, camels, ground sloths, and mastodons. The aggressive animals could open their jaws up to 30 degrees, allowing them to hunt large prey. They also scavenged on elks, peccaries, caribou, prong oxen, tapirs, and capybaras that other predators killed. Their teeth could penetrate the hard shells and thick leather of their prey. With the large variety of prey, the cats opted for the heaviest and biggest.

The cats likely avoided biting because of their fragile canines. Instead, the position of their teeth suggested that they would first pull down their prey and go ahead and dispatch them. Dr. Larisa DeSantis, a vertebrate paleontologist at Vanderbilt University, explains that one of the benefits of the long sabers is that the prey could bleed out fast. Like modern cats, they are believed to be social carnivores hunting in packs to ensure the injured, young, old, or ill got food.

Kicking up a spray of dirt a massive smilodon leaps out of the murky mists

Exciting Facts About Saber-Toothed Cats

  • The most recognized saber-toothed cat is Smilodon. It was a short-limbed, giant saber-toothed tiger that lived in South and North America. It represents the peak of the saber-tooth evolution. Bones from the cat were recovered from La Brea Tar Pits in LA, California.

  • It's important to note that that the saber-toothed cats were a diverse group. More than a dozen pre-historic felines had these large fangs. Despite popular belief, none of them were actual tigers. Furthermore, tons of non-cat predators were conversationally known as saber-toothed cats, including Nimravides Catocopis 9-million old species that were relatives of both hyenas and felines, implying they did not belong to either group.

  • A majority of saber-toothed cat fossils were discovered in Florida and California. From their fossils, it is assumed that the cats lived in closed habitats like forests or bushes.

  • Research and studies from the available remains show that the life span of the cats ranged from 20-40 years.

  • While the gestation period of the saber-toothed cats is widely unknown, it is said that they reproduced like modern mammals. Females gave birth to offspring, and on average, they could give birth to 3 babies at once.

  • Studies indicate that it is hard to distinguish female saber-toothed cats from males. Unlike most mammals, males and females were almost the same sizes. There were little or no differences between the sexes, skull, teeth, and skeleton.

  • There is a possibility that the cats did not only use their sabers to fight prey. They could have also used them to battle other saber-toothed cats, perhaps over territory or females.

  • The cats most likely did not grow long fangs until they were about three years old.

  • Generally, the back limbs of saber-toothed cats were a bit shorter and more robust. The front limbs were longer. The mysterious creatures also had short tails with muscular heavy build features that made them excellent hunters. The cats would generally pounce on prey from a short distance because they were not built for long-distance running.

  • In the past million years, long killing fangs evolved multiple times. Scientists believe that a saber-toothed cat may roam the earth in the future.

  • Some cats may have died in tar pits that were a killer and natural feature of the landscape. Animals would get stuck in the pits, sink into the asphalt and die. Scientists recovered more than a million bones in California's La Brea tar pits, including bones that belonged to Smiledon, one of the best-preserved and largest saber-tooth cats.

Closing Thoughts

Extinct mammals, saber-toothed cats are carnivore animals best known for their dagger-like long canines protruding from the sides of their mouths. They are among the most iconic ice age mammals. Reading the article above will give you insight into some of the essential information about saber-toothed cats.

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