Common Name:  Saber Tooth Cat

Name Meaning:  “Carving Knife Tooth”

Geologic Era:  Pleistocene

Location Discovered:  Marion County, Florida

Size: 100 cm tall, 175 cm long

Mass:  160-280 kg (353-617 lbs)

Estimated Range:  North and South America

Extinction Date:  10,000 years ago; may have persisted longer in isolated areas

There are two Smilodon specimens in the collection. The first is a cast of a complete skull, including the iconic saber teeth. The cast is a life sized replica of a Smilodon fatalis skull. Smildon remains are found all around the southern United States, as well as South America. Analysis of the saber teeth show that the could have withstood substantial front-to-back force, but much less side to side force without breaking. The teeth were probably used to stab into a vulnerable area, such as the neck, and then the powerful neck muscles would pull back and sever important structures in the prey animal.

The radius is a very interesting piece. There is a 2 centimeter deep hole on the distal end, piercing through the bone. My guess is that a wolf likely made the hole. I also an inclined to think it is a scavenging, as opposed to a predation/conflict injury. The location is a bit odd for predation or fighting, being toward the end of the forelimb (comparable to the wrist area in a human). There is also no evidence that this injury began to heal, meaning it was probably inflicted after the animal was dead. The radius is also a wonderful study in homology, or similar structures in the same bones across species. A quick glance reveals it is a near mirror image of a human radius.

Smilodon radius compared to a human radius. The human forearm is from the model skeleton in my classroom. Perhaps it’s a good thing the arm fell off a few years ago.

Smilodon was not a predator built for sustained chases, but rather for ambush. One can easily imagine a Smilodon lurking at the edge of a forest, and springing out at an unsuspecting herbivore. Smilodon would probably use its powerful forelimbs to wrestle prey to the ground, then deliver a killing bite. There is a possibility that Smilodon lived in a pride structure similar to modern lions, however, it is equally possible that is was a solitary hunter. The evidence for pride behavior is primarily severe injuries that have healed, indicating the animal was able to get food, which could indicate care from pride members. On the other hand, big cats can heal if they can at least have access to water, and no groups of Smilodon have been found together.

Skeleton showing impressive gape

Smilodon could open its jaws 120 degrees, which would allow it to get its jaws around nearly anything it wanted. The forelimbs are also very robust, again showing that Smilodon was probably wrestling prey down with its forelimbs. Smilodon forelimbs and shoulders often show evidence of injuries, specifically what could be called repetitive stress injuries. This shows that Smilodon had a very up close method of attack, which lent itself to arm, shoulder, and lower back injuries. Arthritis also shows up frequently in Smilodon bones. Clearly, disorders that we generally associate with humans can afflict animals as well.

Image Credits:

Full Skeleton: “Smilodon Skeleton” by Momotarou2012 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smilodon_Skeleton.jpg#/media/File:Smilodon_Skeleton.jpg

Animal Reconstruction: Dantheman9758 at en.wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons