aka "Saber-Toothed Tiger"
Saber-toothed cats are some of
the best known and most popular of all Ice Age
animals. Two different types of saber-toothed
cats lived in the Americas 12,000 years ago. One
type was the Scimitar Cat (Homotherium serum),
which had shorter canines than the more familiar
Saber-Toothed Tiger (Smilodon fatalis),
which is the species discussed here. Despite its
common name, the Saber-Toothed Tiger was more
closely related to modern-day wildcats (pumas, bobcats, etc.)
than to tigers.
This large wildcat was about the size of
an African lion -- about 4-5 feet long and 3 feet
tall, and weighing about 440 pounds. It had
relatively short legs and a short, bobbed tail.
Its 12-inch-long skull had 2 saber-like teeth,
each about 7 inches long.
Based on the locations in which
its fossils have been found, it is likely that
Smilodon lived on grassy plains and in open
Very powerful front legs and a
short tail indicate that saber-toothed cats used
stealth and ambush rather than speed to capture
their prey. It may have eaten thick-skinned prey
horses, and bison.
Smilodons first appeared about
1.6 million years ago, and became extinct around
11,000 years ago. They are known mostly from
fossils, frozen, mummified carcasses, and from
ancient cave drawings. The pressures of a major
climate change probably led to their extinction,
but human hunting may have played a role as well.
The genus was named by
Plieninger in 1846.
Thousands of Smilodon fossils
have been found in late Pleistocene tar pits and
rocks from North and South America. Bones from
nearly 2,000 individuals have been recovered from
the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles alone,
which is why Smilodon californicus was
designated the California State Fossil.
Zoom Dinosaurs www.zoomdinosaurs.com/subjects/mammals/smilodon/
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