THE SABER-TOOTHED TIGER




The saber-toothed tiger - or more correctly - the saber-toothed cat is one of the most iconic mammals to have ever lived on this planet. However, you may be surprised to find out that there wasn't just one saber toothed cat. In fact there are over one hundred species and subspecies that can make claim to this title ranging from the extinct subfamilies of Machairodontinae (Felidae), Barbourofelidae (Feliformia), and Nimravidae (Feliformia). There are also two families related to marsupials whose remains have been found worldwide.

These specialist mammals are so called because of their large, saber-like maxillary canine teeth, which extended from their mouths even when it was closed. Despite the name, not all animals known as saber-toothed cats were closely related to modern felines.

Be that as it may, the one species that comes to most peoples mind when they think of the saber-toothed tiger is the magnificent Smilodon.

Named from the Greek for "chisel tooth, it was described by the Danish naturalist and palaeontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund in 1841 who found the fossils of Smilodon populator in caves near the small town of Lagoa Santa, Brazil.

A fully-grown Smilodon weighed approximately 55 to 470 kg (120 to 1,000 lb), depending on species. It had a short tail, powerful legs, muscular neck and long canines. Smilodon was more robustly built than any modern cat, in fact it was more comparable to a bear! The lumbar region of the back was proportionally short, and the lower limbs were shortened relative to the upper limbs in comparison with modern pantherine cats, suggesting that Smilodon was not built for speed.

Where did the saber-toothed tiger live?

Perhaps the most impressive of all the saber-toothed tigers is is the magnificent Smilodon, which itself is made up of three sub-species. First found in caves near the small town of Lagoa Santa, Brazil, smilodon species were later discovered to be endemic to both North America and South America.

In fact, if you combine the ranges of all the saber-toothed families together, their distribution would have once covered every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. This make it all the more tragic when you consider how such a successful group of animals managed to die out so completely!

What did the saber toothed tiger eat?

Smilodon probably preyed on a wide variety of large game including bison, tapirs, deer, American camels, horses and ground sloths. As it is known for the saber-toothed cat Homotherium, Smilodon might have also killed juvenile mastodons and mammoths. Smilodon may also have attacked prehistoric humans, although this is not known for certain. The La Brea tar pits in California trapped hundreds of Smilodon in the tar, possibly as they tried to feed on mammoths already trapped.

Modern big cats kill mainly by crushing the windpipe of their victims, which may take a few minutes. Smilodon’s jaw muscles were probably too weak for this and its long canines and fragile skull would have been vulnerable to snapping in a prolonged struggle or when biting a running prey. Research in 2007 concluded that Smilodon most likely used its great upper-body strength to wrestle prey to the ground, where its long canines could deliver a deep stabbing bite to the throat which would generally cut through the jugular vein and/or the trachea and thus kill the prey very quickly.

The leaders of this study also commented to scientific journalists that this technique may have made Smilodon a more efficient killer of large prey than modern lions or tigers, but it also made it more dependent on the supply of large animals. This highly specialized hunting style may also have contributed to its extinction, as the Smilodon’s cumbersome build and over-sized canines would have made it less efficient at killing smaller, faster prey if the ecosystem changed for any reason.

A later study concurred, finding that the forelimbs of Smilodon, more than those of any modern large cat, were capable of minimizing the struggles of prey and positioning them for a quick kill without fracturing those impressive canines.

For related articles click onto:
THE BENGAL TIGER
THE SABER-TOOTHED TIGER
THE TASMANIAN TIGER
TIGER FACTS
WHAT ANIMAL IS SID FROM THE FILM ICE AGE?
WHAT IS THE WORLD'S LARGEST SPECIES OF TIGER?
WHAT ARE THE NINE SUBSPECIES OF TIGER?
WHAT DO MOUNTAIN LIONS EAT?
WHAT IS A GROUND SLOTH?
WHY DID THE SABER-TOOTHED TIGER BECOME EXTINCT?

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