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Habitat
Type of predator
Living period

Sabre toothed cat (Smilodon)

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Description


Smilodon was one of the few sabre-toothed cats that would have encountered humans. Whilst sabre-tooths in Africa and Europe became extinct before our species had evolved, Smilodon survived until the end of the ice age. Three species lived in the Americas over time. Smilodon lived in North America during the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 mya–10,000 years ago).
The ancestors of the Native Americans might have met two of these, Smilodon fatalis and Smilodon populator.
The latter was a heavily built animal, weighing more than a Siberian tiger. Smilodon's ancestor was probably another sabre-tooth species, Megantereon, that lived in Africa, Eurasia and North America.
The nickname "saber-tooth" refers to the extreme length of their maxillary canines. Despite the colloquial name "saber-toothed tiger", Smilodon is not a tiger; the latter belongs to subfamily Pantherinae, whereas Smilodon belongs to subfamily Machairodontinae.
The genus Smilodon was described by the Danish naturalist and palaeontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund in 1841. He found the fossils of Smilodon populator in caves near the small town of Lagoa Santa, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

 

prehistoric_killers_smilodon_sabertooth


A number of Smilodon species have been described, but today usually only three are recognized.
Smilodon gracilis, 2.5 million-500,000 years ago; the smallest and earliest species (estimated to have been only 55 to 100 kg (120 to 220 lb)) was the successor of Megantereon in North America, from which it probably evolved. The other Smilodon species probably derived from this species.
Smilodon fatalis, 1.6 million-10,000 years ago, replaced Smilodon gracilis in North America and invaded western South America as part of the Great American Interchange. In size it was between Smilodon gracilis and Smilodon populator, and about the same as the largest surviving cat, the Siberian tiger.
This species was about 1 m high at the shoulder and is estimated to have ranged from 160 to 280 kg (350 to 620 lb). Sometimes two additional species are recognized, Smilodon californicus and Smilodon floridanus, but usually they are considered to be subspecies of Smilodon fatalis.

 

 

prehistoric_killers_smilodon_sabertooth



Its upper canines reached 30 cm (12 in) and protruded up to 17 cm (6.7 in) out of the upper jaw. Genetic evidence suggests Smilodon populator and other members of the genus diverged from the main lineage of modern cats (subfamily Felinae) around 14-18 million years ago.
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, 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.
With their enormous, deadly-sharp canines, saber-toothed carnivores are well known to many people as frightening and ferocious predators of the Cenozoic.The sabertooth morphology has appeared several times during the history of the mammals.
Saber teeth evolved both among the true cats, or the family Felidae (these saber-toothed cats are sometimes classified in a separate subfamily of cats, the Machairodontinae) and within the Nimravidae (an extinct carnivore family that was related both to the true cats and to the civets and mongooses).
The Hyaenodontidae, a family of the extinct mammalian order Creodonta, also included saber-toothed members. Even saber-toothed marsupial "cats" or thylacosmilids inhabited South America from the upper Miocene to the late Pliocene. The saber-tooth morphology is an excellent example of convergent evolution as it appeared in several evolutionary lineages independently.

prehistoric_killers_smilodon_sabertooth

In the eyes of the public, the sabre-toothed cat Smilodon ranks alongside Tyrannosaurus rex as the ultimate killing machine of all time. Powerfully built, with upper canines like knives, Smilodon has been portrayed as a fearsome predator of Ice-Age mammals such as mammoth, bison, and elk.
And while most scientists agree that the sabrecat was able to kill these animals thanks to its ferocious fangs, there has been plenty of debate about how it actually used them.Now a new study, using a computer based technique called Finite Element Analysis (FEA), has tested some of the previous ideas about killing behaviour in Smilodon.
FEA is used by engineers to help design trains, planes, and cars, and allows them to digitally ‘crash test’ their designs to make sure they will work as intended. But biologists can use it to reverse engineer Nature’s designs to find out what sort of forces a structure like a sabrecat skull was able to handle.
Skulls are much more complex then most man-made structures, and to apply the technique to a fossil big cat requires some tricks engineers don’t usually have to handle, but an Australian team based at the University of Newcastle and the University of New South Wales have been working on a method to do just that and the results give scientists new insights into the behaviour of this iconic predator.
Compared to a modern day lion, the sabrecat had a relatively weak bite: for a ~230kg Smilodon the computer models predict a force of about 1000N (~100 kg) at the canines, about the same as the bite force of a 80 kg jaguar and a third of the bite force of ~250 kg lion.
In a Smilodon skull, the available area for jaw muscles is small compared to a lion, but to see if the sabrecat was somehow packing some extra bite in its cheek the team artificially increased the bite force to that of a 230 kg modern big cat.

prehistoric_killers_smilodon_sabertooth

 


The result: high stresses in the sabrecat’s jaw  far higher than in the lion. But if the extra bite force was supplied by the neck muscles instead (so that the sabrecat was driving its whole head – including the teeth – towards the prey) then it handles the forces much better. This suggests that the neck muscles played an important role in generating bite force in Smilodon.
But the real difference between the sabrecat and a modern lion is revealed when the models are subjected to the kind of forces that result from tackling struggling prey – prey that is still on its feet. Lions do this all the time, but when the Smilodon model was exposed to these forces it lit up like a Christmas tree. If there was one thing Smilodon was not doing, it was tackling unrestrained prey.
Sabrecats were well built for wrestling large prey to the ground, and the models show that it needed to do this before trying a bite. Moreover, the killing bite was most likely applied to the prey’s throat, because it is easier to restrain the prey this way.
It had to be made with care, but once the bite was done the prey was would have died almost instantly – a handy trick, when the predator needs to keep clear of angry herd-mates and hungry competitors.
A lion can take more than 10 minutes to kill a Cape buffalo – plenty of time for its mates to charge you, or the hyenas to arrive. On the other hand, lions can catch a wide range of different prey, including agile antelope and gazelle.
The sabrecat may have been a highly efficient hunter of large prey, but it was not built to catch smaller, faster animals and when the American megafauna went extinct at the end of the last Ice-Age the specialist predator went with them.
This may explain why today we still have lions, tigers, and bears but no sabrecats.
Evidence of sociability can be seen even in the fossils themselves. When an animal stressed its body beyond its abilities to cope, damage is sure to ensue. Smilodon bones often show fractures and deformities. Muscles tearing from bones are not particularly uncommon in this predator. Hunting large prey can stress an animal to this point.
What is curious about these wounds is that they heal. A muscle torn from a bone heals and tears again and heals and tears again, leaving the body to struggle to stop the cycle by laying down thick deposits of calcium, warping the bone into having large lumps of bone jutting from the norm; similarly, broken bones heal badly, but re-fuse, and the animal lives on.
In solitary animals, such as the modern cheetah, Acinonyx, a simple sprain is enough to inhibit the predator’s hunting to the point that it will starve to death. Hunting with an able body is hard enough. A broken bone would never heal because the animal would die before the body could repair the damage. Smilodon seemed to have suffered great injuries and survived the healing stage to recover and hunt again.
The large genus Machairodus often displays broken canines that are worn due to extensive usage after the break, along with Smilodon.

 
Smilodon_Fatalis_killing 

One specific case of fossil deformity is the observed large pelvic fractures that healed in a subadult Smilodon fossils with extensive myositis ossificans traumatica, immobilizing the juvenile completely until healed months later, and even when healed it would have been crippled terribly. The muscle damage was severe and blood would have pooled beneath the skin in the injury.
During this extended period of several months, it could not run and walking would have been very tiring and painful. It would have had food brought directly to it, carried from a kill site to where the injured animal lay. This behavior has been observed in lionesses (Schaller, 1972) for up to nine months.
A modern study of bones has used paleopathology to evaluate the lives of the living animals using 5,000 deformed fossils. Paleopathology is the study of diseased and injured animals in the fossil record and is studied through bones distorted from breaks, strains, chips, swelling, calcium buildup, marks from bites, etc.
These bones suggest injuries that would debilitate an individual through the presence of broken and worn canines, chipped incisors and premolars, arthritis, infection with a fungus that causes Valley Fever, a severely infected hip, and a half-broken neck. Muscles that are repeatedly damaged leave knobby growths on the bone when the body struggles to heal and strengthen the bone.
By noticing specifically where the repeated injuries occur, it is possible to tell what muscles were being strained the most and lead to hunting theories




Habitat


Based on discoveries made by Professor John C. Merriam, and his student Chester Stock made in the La Brea tar pits,We now know Smilodon was about a foot shorter than living lions but was nearly twice as heavy. Also, unlike cheetahs and lions (which have long tails that help provide balance when the animals run) Smilodon had a bobtail.
These suggest that Smilodon did not chase down prey animals over long distances as lions, leopards, and cheetahs do. Instead, it probably charged from ambush, waiting for its prey to come close before attacking.
Smilodon is a relatively recent sabertooth, from the Late Pleistocene. It went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Fossils have been found all over North America and Europe. Smilodon fossils from the La Brea tar pits include bones that show evidence of serious crushing or fracture injuries, or crippling arthritis and other degenerative diseases.
Such problems would have been debilitating for the wounded animals. Yet many of these bones show extensive healing and regrowth indicating that even crippled animals survived for some time after their injuries. How did they survive? It seems most likely that they were cared for, or at least allowed to feed, by other saber-toothed cats.
Solitary hunters with crippling injuries would not be expected to live long enough for the bones to heal. Smilodon appears to have lived in packs and had a social structure like modern lions. They were unlike tigers and all other living cats, which are solitary hunters. Occasional finds of sabertooth-sized holes in Smilodon bones suggest the social life of Smilodon was not always peaceful.
The cats may have fought over food or mates as lions do today. Such fights were probably accompanied by loud roaring. From the structure of the hyoid bones in the throat
of Smilodon, we know it could roar.



Diet

The enormous teeth were used in hunting, but opinions vary as to exactly how they were used. Some paleontologists have suggested that they were used to grab and hold onto prey.
However, attacking a large herbivore this way could easily break the saber teeth and saber teeth that were demonstrably broken during an animal's lifetime are rare in fossil deposits. A more plausible hypothesis suggests that saber teeth were used to deliver a fatal ripping wound to the belly or throat of a prey animal. Sabertooth carnivores may not have tried to grapple with prey.
More likely, they delivered one crippling stab wound and then waited for the prey to die.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. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has many of their complete skeletons.
Saber-toothed members of the Carnivora, (the mammalian order that contains cats, dogs, bears, weasels, and others) appeared independently at least twice.




Extinction

Smilodon became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BC, a time which saw the extinction of many other large herbivorous and carnivorous mammals.
Prehistoric humans, who reached North America at the same time and are known to have hunted many of the species that disappeared, are often viewed as responsible for this extinction wave. Others have suggested that the end of the ice age caused the extinction. As the ice sheets retreated there would have been changing vegetation patterns.
Grasslands expanded.The summers became more extreme and parts of North America began to dry out. However, this hypothesis does not explain why Smilodon and its ancestors as well as other megafaunal species successfully survived many previous interglacials, and then fairly suddenly died out over the entire contiguous land area of North and South America.




Interesting facts

The enormous teeth were used in hunting, but opinions vary as to exactly how they were used. Some paleontologists have suggested that they were used to grab and hold onto prey.
However, attacking a large herbivore this way could easily break the saber teeth and saber teeth that were demonstrably broken during an animal's lifetime are rare in fossil deposits. A more plausible hypothesis suggests that saber teeth were used to deliver a fatal ripping wound to the belly or throat of a prey animal.
Sabertooth carnivores may not have tried to grapple with prey. More likely, they delivered one crippling stab wound and then waited for the prey to die.


smilodon_sable_thoot_skull


The sabre-tooth tiger, known as smilodon, was one of the few sabre-toothed cats that would have encountered humans. Whilst sabre-tooths in Africa and Europe became extinct before our species had evolved, Smilodon survived until the end of the ice age. Three species lived in the Americas over time.
The ancestors of the Native Americans might have met two of these, Smilodon fatalis and Smilodon populator. The latter was a heavily built animal, weighing more than a Siberian tiger. Smilodon's ancestor was probably another sabre-tooth species, Megantereon, that lived in Africa, Eurasia and North America.


A fully-grown Smilodon weighed approximately 55 to 470 kg (120 to 1,000 lb), depending on species.


Compared to a modern day lion, the sabrecat had a relatively weak bite: for a ~230kg Smilodon the computer models predict a force of about 1000N (~100 kg) at the canines, about the same as the bite force of a 80 kg jaguar and a third of the bite force of ~250 kg lion.
In a Smilodon skull, the available area for jaw muscles is small compared to a lion, but to see if the sabrecat was somehow packing some extra bite in its cheek the team artificially increased the bite force to that of a 230 kg modern big cat.

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http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/carnivora/sabretooth.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Smilodon
http://earth.uwaterloo.ca
http://www.monstermarketplace.com/museum-quality-bronze-statues/sabre-tooth-tiger-skull
http://www.iceagemovie.com/
http://wallpapermurals.org/content/saber-tooth-tiger-wall-mural
http://www.sdsea.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1011510
http://www.math.cornell.edu/~jworkman/places/la/
http://greeneyezz-stock.deviantart.com/art/Saber-Tooth-Tiger-Skull-1-54946013
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12712-sabretooth-cat-had-a-surprisingly-delicate-bite.html
http://paleodb.org/cgi-bin/bridge.pl?action=checkTaxonInfo&taxon_no=41079&is_real_user=1
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-11/news/we-2965_1_saber-toothed-cat-tar-pits-george-c-page-museum
http://www.google.ru/books?id=Qh82IW-HHWAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false - download prehistoric "after dinosaurus" electronic book
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