Updated date:

5 Facts About Saber-Toothed Cats: A Prehistoric Kitty

Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge.

Although no one really knows what a sabertooth cat looked like, there have been many guesses. This is just one possibility of what it looked like.

Although no one really knows what a sabertooth cat looked like, there have been many guesses. This is just one possibility of what it looked like.

1. Double the Weight of an African Lion

When the saber-toothed cat, also known as the smilodon, walked the Earth, it was much colder than it is today. Different creatures lived here at the same time, such as the woolly mammoth, giant sloth, and the dire wolf. Although often referred to as a saber-toothed tiger or saber-toothed tiger, the name is misleading. This cat is not part of the tiger family, which is why the saber-toothed cat is a more accurate name. Although, that does not mean it is anything like the house cat of today. It had teeth seven inches long and jagged like a steak knife. It weighed as much as 800 pounds. That is more than double the weight of a female African lion.

Fast Facts

CategoryFact

Height

3 feet (0.9 meters)

Length

4-5 feet (1.2 - 1.5 meters)

Weight

440 pounds (200 kilograms)

Foot Tracks

6.9 by 7.6 inches (17.6 by 19.2 centimeters)

Lost Baby Teeth

20 months old

Adult Teeth Length

11 inches (28 centimeters)

Kingdom

Animalia

Phylum

Chordata

Class

Mammalia

Order

Carnivora

Family

Felidae

Genus

Smilodon

Believed Extinction

Scientists estimate 12,000 years ago

Habitat

Chili, Ecuador, Peru, California, and Andes Mountains

La Brea Tar Pits

2. Greatest Collection in Los Angeles

Since the last saber-toothed cat died nearly ten thousand years ago, the only things we know about the saber-toothed cat is what paleontologists learned from studying their fossils. In downtown Los Angeles they uncovered many bones in the tar pits there. These tar pits are known as the Rancho La Brea tar pits. You can read about the fossil findings inside the museum surrounding the area.

They first discovered bones of mammals in the tar pits in 1913 and, since then, 59 different kinds of mammals and 135 birds. The most common bones found in the tar pits are those of the dire wolf, which are now extinct. The second most common mammal found is the smilodon with more than two thousand saber-toothed cats.

The Saber-toothed cats got stuck in the pits trying to attack other animals. After it rained, water would settle on top of the tar, which would cause the tar pit to look much like any other stream or lake. Mammals such as mammoths and horses would drink the water. Once they would try to move, they could not, due to the paws being stuck in the tar pits.

The tar would act like flypaper, immobilizing even giant woolly mammoths. The saber-tooth, not realizing there was tar beneath the water, would attack a mammoth or other mammal. As they brought their prey to the ground, the saber-tooth cat would get stuck as well for thousands of years.

Though this was believed to only happen a few times each year, after 30,000 years, a few became a few thousand. There are believed to be more bones to find.

3. Slow, Yet Strong

Since the only part of a saber-toothed cat that man has seen is its skeleton, we only have an educated guess as to the appearance of a saber-tooth.

Though it is uncertain what they look like, scientists assume that a Saber-Toothed cat has a tan coat, which would have blended in with its environment, and contained spots like a jaguar or leopard since many lived in trees and shrubs.

What we do know is these cats were large and robust. In length, they were at least five feet to seven feet long (2.2 meters) and at the shoulder were at least three feet tall. Though they were nearly the same size as a lion, they were much more substantial. Some were as heavy as eight hundred eighty pounds (400 kg). They had muscular front legs and paws with sharp retractable claws, which allowed them to jump far and high. Though because their legs were short, they were not fast runners.

With short tails, like a bobcat, they most likely hid behind bushes then leaped out at their prey. Many cats rely on their tails for balance and an ability to change direction quickly, which supports the theory that a saber-tooth cat was not a quick runner. Though they most likely could run about as fast as a medium bear, which is around 30 miles per hour.

They have small throat bones, much like a lion, which indicates they could roar. Like most cats, they had whiskers, which was discovered because scientists found canals in their skull, which resemble that of modern cats. These canals allow whiskers to penetrate nerves inside the skull to tell the cat how close they are to another object.

4. Long, But Fragile Teeth

Though their size is impressive, they were not giants. Their most notable trait was their canine teeth, which portrayed their ferociousness.

With teeth seven inches long and as sharp as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, they were a fierce predator. Their teeth curved much like a saber or arched sword. Their long teeth were jagged like a serrated knife. Cubs are born without these long teeth and resemble a baby lion. They do not usually have full-grown canine teeth till six months of age when they are considered adults and begin hunting on their own.

Despite the teeth’s vicious appearance, they are very fragile. It is not sure how the teeth are used since many cats bite at the neck of their prey since the neck has many bones that could break their fragile teeth.

Saber-toothed cats most likely latch onto their prey with their strong legs and sink their claws into the sides of the animal. Once the animal falls to the ground, the saber tooth stabs the cat through the abdomen or front of the neck where few bones are, causing their prey to bleed heavily.

Most plant-eating animals were too quick for the saber-toothed cat; therefore, it is unknown for sure what their primary victim was. Though they could have brought down a mammoth the size of an elephant, their main prey was their weight or smaller. Which meant their main diet consisted of horses, young bison, antelope, and young mammoths.

5. Became Extinct Ten Thousand Years Ago

No one knows why the saber-toothed cat became extinct. There are three theories as to what killed these animals’ humans, climate, and disease.

Though it is very doubtful humans killed these ferocious animals, we may have hunted and eaten most of their prey, causing them to have limited food sources. Climate changes could have reduced their food source. Plus, they may not have been able to survive in the warmth after the ice age. The disease most likely killed the saber-tooth cat.

What is known is ten thousand years ago, two-thirds of animals that lived in North America died out after the Ice Age ended. No one knows why.

Though there is much about the saber-toothed cat, that is unknown, we have learned a lot from studying its bones. The biggest mystery that the cat has left behind is its sudden disappearance from the earth. Today, many fear that many large cats on the planet today may follow in its footsteps since the number of large cats continues to dwindle.

Citations

Antony, Laurence. Saber Toothed Tiger. Gareth Stevens Publishing: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 1996.

Cole, Joanna. Saber-Toothed Tiger and Other Ice Age Mammals. William Morrow and Company Incorporated: New York, New York; 1977.

Gray, Susan H. Saber-Toothed Cats. The Child’s World: Chanhassan, MN; 2005.

Hebner, Barbara. Ice Age Sabertooth: The Most Ferocious Cat that Ever Lived. Crown Publishers: New York. 2002

Matthews, Rupert. Gone Forever! Sabretooth. Heineman Library: Chicago, Illinois: 2003.

Turner, Alan. National Geographic: Prehistoric Mammals. Firecrest Book Ltd.: Washington DC: 2004.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz

Comments

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 07, 2012:

Thanks!

tate on March 05, 2012:

awesome

Magnus on December 12, 2011:

Cool

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 31, 2010:

I know what you mean! I bet they were cute as small little cubs though. :) I love all cats!

Money Glitch from Texas on March 31, 2010:

Great hub, I did not know that the saber tooth was so big. It's hard to imagine looking at cute kittens that a saber tooth could be a long lost relative. :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 29, 2010:

Oh my goodness. I would so love to see meet your ex... wait that didn't come across right. You know what I mean. I think archaeologists have the coolest job in the world!

I was thinking about writing a hub on mammoths, but I've only just begun reading about them. I need to do more research!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on March 29, 2010:

Very professional HUB! I;ve been to La Brea Tar Pits. My ex husband is an archaeologist and uncovered a buried Mammmoth

(Elephant) in Ohio.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 26, 2010:

Thanks! I am fascinated by most things prehistoric.

Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on March 26, 2010:

Interesting topic!