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The Saber—Tooth Tiger

Smilodon—The Saber-Tooth Cat

For about two million years the America's were dominated on land by one of the most powerful mammalian predators of all time, the Smilodon populator, otherwise known as the saber-toothed tiger. Now those up to eleven inch long teeth get all the attention, but the entire animal was built to kill the largest of herbivores, and who argues with a thousand pound cat?

Those big sabers of the Smilodon did have a purpose, of course, as nature always does, and in this instance, the purpose of the twin sabers was clear, to rip out the throat of something and turn it into dinner in one big bite.

A Nice Rendition of What a Smilodon May Have Looked Like

Wanna pet the kitty?

Wanna pet the kitty?

Smilodon, an Ancient Cat of the Americas—Not a Tiger

Now despite the colloquial phrase or moniker saber-tooth tiger, our Smilodon was not a tiger at all, but of course, I realize the three part name is catchy and isn't likely to be substituted for saber-tooth cat anytime soon. What is very important to realize here is that when we talk of the Smilodon, we are talking about an entire genus of cats and not just one species of cat.

There were possibly many more species of Smilodon, but we now know of three species of the genus very well, and they ranged in size from one hundred twenty pounds all the way up to a thousand pounds, and all species were built more thickly muscled than any species of cat from any genus of cat living today. It could be said, and has, that the Smilodon genus of ancient and extinct cats was built more like bears than the cats of today, but they were definitely cats, and the ancient bears were quite another thing altogether.

Please do not be confused here concerning the three species of saber-toothed cats of the genus Smilodon, they weren't all living or existing in healthy numbers at the same time or in the same place—but overlaps of both time and place of the three species did happen, and were all in the Americas, both North, and South.

An Extremely Muscular Cat—A Smilodon, or Saber-Toothed Cat


Complete Skeleton of a Smilodon, or Saber-Tooth Cat


Smilodon and Modern Big Cat Differences

All three species of known and/or verified Smilodon were roughly proportionate to one another, and all are very different from modern big cats. Of course, the large saber teeth are unique to the extinct Smilodon species, but also the way the cats were built is very different. The three Smilodon species had shorter and much more powerful limbs, and especially powerful were the front legs. Not only that, the paws of the Smilodon were much better developed than are the forward paws of large cats today, and the reason for this was that Smilodon cats were accustomed to literally pulling much larger than they herbivorous creatures to the ground, and from there they would sever the animal's arteries of the neck with the big saber teeth.

If you contrast that method of kill to the biggest American cat of today, the Jaguar, there is a lot of difference in the build and killing technique of these American cats. The Jaguar pounces on the backs of creatures that may be larger than it is, but these creatures are substantially smaller in size to size proportion to the kills made by the three species of Smilodons, and the jaguar kills its prey by crunching through the victim's skull into the brain.

All species of Smilodon were built for power rather than speed. While no cats run so fast as do the modern cheetah, all modern big cats are definitely more built for sprints than they are for overpowering prey with their forelegs. But that is what the three species of Smilodon did - over power, or pull to the ground whatever they intended to eat, and then slice the neck with the large saber teeth for a quick and bloody kill and meal.

All this oral glorification that comes with huge canine teeth and such aimed kindly in the direction of the cats of the genus Smilodon is totally uncalled for. The truth of the matter is that today's big cats have more powerful pound per square inch bites than Smilodon cats had, though the Smilodon mouth might look very frightful, it was the big muscular body that was truly the weapon, as once it had you, then you'd feel the teeth, and then no more.

It is well known that the African Lion is a somewhat social creature, and lots do know that packs of lions are known as prides. The African lion is a bit different in the way it socializes, as most other big cats are solitary creatures that only socialize for mating, or in the time when it is being raised.

What is known about Smilodon social skills or traits? Absolutely nothing. It has forever been speculated that the Smilodon species were all solitary cats as are the jaguar and the cougar, or mountain lion —but hard facts on this issue are nothing but speculation at this time.

What cat in the world today is most like the three ancient species of Smilodon? Well, none at all - but the Liger is about the size of the largest of the Smilodon species. Ligers do not occur naturally in the wild but are the cross between a male lion and a female tiger. Ligers are virtual super cats but are only bred in captivity by persons educated, funded, and fully capable of doing so—for studies concerning the complexities of genetics. A Liger may weigh as much as a thousand pounds.

The Liger, the World's Largest Cat - Roughly the Size of a Smilodon. Populator, but Not Nearly as Powerful

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Read More From Owlcation

Smilodon Populator—The Largest Saber-Toothed Cat, and the Largest Cat to Have Ever Lived


The Three Species of the Genus Smilodon

Now the Smilodon populator was the largest cat to have ever lived, but as badly as US folk might find it disappointing, the Smilodon populator did not live in the territory that is now known as the USA. This cat, the largest that ever lived, was the apex predator of the Eastern parts of South America from ten thousand years ago all the way back to one million years ago, and nothing at all could contend with it.

The Smilodon populator was as tall as fifty-five inches high at the shoulder, one hundred inches long, and weighed regularly in at around a thousand pounds, and then some a little more. There are a lot of very well preserved remains of this cat taken from Peruvian caves.

The second largest species of the Smilodon was the Smilodon fatalis, which was the big North American cat. The Smilodon fatalis roamed Northern America from ten thousand years ago all the way back to one point six million years ago, a nice long set of lives for a species. The Smilodon fatalis did manage to roam South to the Southern Americas, and during the same time in which the larger Smilodon populator also lived there. A full meter high at the shoulders stood this saber-toothed cat, and they could weigh in at as much as six hundred and twenty or so pounds. The Smilodon fatalis also had two subspecies that generated from it, the Smilodon of California, and the Smilodon of Florida.

Hopefully, you've noticed that this section of text is going backward in time, and as we go back we find the first species of Smilodon to have developed, the Smilodon gracilis, which lived in Northern America from two and a half million years ago up to five hundred thousand years ago. The larger two species of Smilodon are presumed to have evolved from the Smilodon gracilis, which as you follow, the species got larger until they died out, and this one, of course, is the smallest and weighed in at between one twenty to two hundred and twenty pounds. This cat, of course, came from an even smaller cat with big somewhat saber teeth, the Megantereon.

The Smilodon Populator

What Became of the Smilodon Cats?

Obviously, all three species of Smilodon are very extinct. Why they went extinct is a subject of much speculation as is the subject of Smilodon social activities. There are two major bits of speculation concerning the extinction of Smilodon cats, and most likely, a combination of the two lines of reasoning would lead to the actual answer.

During the lives of the Smilodon cats a new creature entered their realms here in the Americas, and of course, that creature was the human being. Humans, of course, crossed over the Bering Straight from Eastern Siberia over into Western Alaska, and then they dispersed Southward from there becoming the Natives of America. Most certainly the original immigrants to the Americas from Asia, or at least the earliest immigrants from Asia that are known of, hunted the large megafauna beasts just as did the Saber-Toothed cats, or Smilodon cats. As humans multiplied they surely decreased the number of viable Smilodon meals available, and so perhaps the big cats slowly died out due to too few meals.

The second idea is that as the ice age that allowed the ice bridge of the Bering Straight to have been formed ended, the changing temperatures changed the vegetation that grew in the Smilodon territories, and so the prey of the Smilodon cats died out from the loss of their flora cuisine. With no herbivores to eat, no more Smilodon. Surely it is most reasonable to conclude that a combination of the two things caused the loss of these large carnivores with the saber teeth—as both show how the very prey the cats survived on could be depleted to levels below sustainability for such large apex predators.

If you would like to know more about the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 mya—10,000 years ago), then I can think of no more entertaining set of videos to watch than those titled The Monsters We Met.

Thank you for Reading.

Megantereon, the Predecessor to Smilodon Cats


Questions & Answers

Question: How did Sabertooth Tigers sleep?

Answer: Saber Tooth Tigers slept in much the same way as the rest of us, they only had a massive aura of fear surrounding them, and this prevented other entities from waking them up on purpose.

Question: why did saber-toothed tigers die out?

Answer: It was an event (over the course of many years) which is now called the Quaternary extinction.

© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 20, 2018:

Wow! I'm very honored to have been of service! God Bless!

someperson on March 20, 2018:

me and my friend are doing research from this and it is really useful thanks for making it :D

kitty on March 16, 2017:

some information but not where it occured on the geologic time scale i like this website and everything but that is just one thing i can not find on here but this website has a lot of useful information for me to use

Norma Lawrence from California on May 15, 2016:

Great Hub. I have written about the Sabre-toothed tiger. This Hub contained a lot of great information. Keep up the good work. I am new to Hub Pages so my Hubs are not that great. Hope to get better.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on December 02, 2012:

Thanks very much, Kenja, did you see the comment from the Biology professor?

Anyway...he said I had some things wrong....which means Wikipedia had those things "wrong."

I just like biology, is all.

Bringing me back to college ...would take some serious money! LOL! I'd love to be in school :)

Ken Taub from Long Island, NY on December 02, 2012:

Cool choice of subject matter. Brought me back to college, and age 9.

Great photos too. best, Ken

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on August 08, 2012:

Howdy Professor Frink!!!

I do hope you realize that I'm not any kind of "professional" so far as biology is concerned. Basically, I research things online....and write about them, mostly right here on

So I'm in no position to dispute your notions at all, however, so far as the Populator being the larger cat....and also that it could have weighed in some specimens as much as a thousand pounds, that information was gleaned directly from Wikipedia entries about the Smilodon cats.

I'd hate it were someone to think I simply "made up my own facts." I do not do that sort of thing.

I certainly do know that Wikipedia pages get edited, and that what is or isn't "fact" is often revised.

Not to be contentious at all, but there is another link stating the Cave Lion or American Lion...was a smaller cat than the Smilodon populator.

Professor Frink on August 07, 2012:

There are a few errors in this article. Firstly, Smilodon populator was not the largest cat of all time - that title goes to the cave lion, a subspecies of lion (considered a separate species by some, but generally accepted as a subspecies of Panthera leo) which was a quarter to a third larger than lions of today. S. populator was only about the size of a modern lion, and though probably heavier it was nowhere near 1000lb. It probably reached about 750lb max. S. fatalis was between a jaguar and a lion in size.

Secondly, with regard to the social life of Smilodon, it is speculated that it lived in groups, like lions. Many skeletons have been found in the La Brea tar pits that show serious damage that would have prevented them hunting, yet also have signs of healing. It's thought they would have been able to feed at kills made by their group as they recovered.

Third, whilst jaguars do kill some prey species with a bite to the head, they generally kill the same way as other cats - by biting the throat of the prey and holding the windpipe closed until it suffocates. The skull is the toughest part of the prey, and with a big animal a predator risks breaking a tooth by attacking it.

Four, just a spelling error - 'bred', not 'bread' in the sentence 'but are only bread in captivity', regarding ligers. Bread is what you make your sandwiches with!

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on August 01, 2012:

My pleasure Wesman. I know the series you refer to, as it was screened on the BBC in the UK - always interesting to watch series like this because prehistoric animals other than dinosaurs just don't get the coverage they deserve.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 31, 2012:

Hey thanks very very much, Greensleeves!!!!!!!

I had NO IDEA about any of this at all until late one night I fell into watching what I thought was a fascinating series of vids ...on Youtube, and that was called "The Monsters We Met."

In fact, I already am seeing traffic from your subdomain!

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on July 31, 2012:

One of the best hubs I've seen about prehistoric mammals Wesman, and particularly nice that you identify the different species of sabre tooth - many people wouldn't appreciate that there was more than one species. This together with all the illustrations and videos have mean't that I have chosen to include your hub in a review I've just published featuring ten of the best prehistoric life articles on the HubPages site. Hope my review helps bring a little more traffic your way! Alun

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 10, 2012:

Thanks very much dwachira!!!!!!!!!

I'm going to do more on the Ice Age animals, simply because I like all the learning involved in figuring out what to write.

Danson Wachira from Nairobi, Kenya on July 10, 2012:

I can only imagine how the world was with all these fierce creatures. Great article Wesman Todd Shaw. Voted up.

DS Duby from United States, Illinois on July 08, 2012:

I'll bet it is! If you write the hub on it I'll be sure to read it, I enjoy your work.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 08, 2012:

Thanks very much DS Duby!!!!!!!

The Liger is a heck of a lot more interesting than the tiny bit I've got about it here too! :)

DS Duby from United States, Illinois on July 07, 2012:

Really interesting hub, the Smilodon cat is a very intriguing animal. I learned a lot from your hub, to be honest I didn't know the liger was a real animal, I thought that it was just made up for a cheesy movie or something. It's pretty crazy to think that such a creature has been bred in captivity. Voted up, awesome and interesting.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 07, 2012:

Well thanks very much, Brett!!!!!!!

I sure love the natural world - it is much more appeasing than the friggin' industrial world :)

Brett C from Asia on July 07, 2012:

Great hub mate, took me back to my childhood ... OK, I'm not that old, it was just my favorite animal while growing up and one I still like today. Awesome creature!

Sharing, up and interesting.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 02, 2012:

Thanks very much Alan!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh I do love cats, and I'd love to have one....I just can't do it here though...too many coyotes.

I mean, sometimes the cats are here for several years...but they always wind up missing. They can't stay inside forever, you know, and so I no longer have them.

I guess if it came down to it I could take someone's cat ....but all the while I'd still know that sooner or later the cat would likely come to a bad end.

...but surely that beats a shelter.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 02, 2012:

Thanks very much Alicia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm sorta into the Ice Age North American critters that were lost at present.

I watched the films (and you can find it all on youtube) "The Monsters We Met," and that got me all hot and bothered about these topics :)

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on July 02, 2012:

Another master-stroke from Guitar Man! This one reminds me of something I've forgotten... Oh, that's it. I forgot to put the cats out! I'll be willing to bet they had no problem with rats and mice back then; we've got one of his kittens.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 01, 2012:

Thank you for a very interesting, informative and enjoyable hub, Wesman. I appreciate your research and all the details about Smilodon.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thanks very much, Sis!!!!!!!!!

I only lack the ability to sit still and concentrate for much of any length at a time...or I'd be a much more entertaining version of any given wikipedia page....and would probably be able to afford decent bear.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thank you very much Mecheshier!!!!!!!

I'll certainly be doing more ...and hope to get back into a higher gear very soon.

I make just enough of an increase on this site to consider ever doing one seems.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thanks very much, Chris, another major problem would be purchasing enough tins of tuna....or maybe the kitty would prefer extra rare red meat....very hard to store safely, you know :)

Angela Blair from Central Texas on July 01, 2012:

Wow, Wes -- you aced this one totally! Your research is exceptional and your descriptions and wording in this piece is beyond compare. I've always been interested in big cats but was not familiar with any here except the Liger -- and then only minimally. Thanks for such an interesting read. Best/Sis

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thanks very much CMHypno!!!!!!

I think that in and of itself would be a great topic for someone to do a hub on. I might go after that eventually. I'm forever most fascinated by the creatures themselves.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thanks very much nmdonders!!! Hopefully I'll come up with another or two that'll please you :)

I always enjoy learning about the things I publish, I sure don't create this stuff from memory.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Hey Paula, yep - cats sure seem unlikely to be truly useful as a domestic animal....I mean, they don't protect or work...I'm sure we just love their oddball personalities!

It is the modern jaguar that crunches through skulls, NOT the Saber Tooth - but yeah, can you imagine the kitty litter you'd have to buy for the thing?


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Hey Randy, if this kind of subject proves to be successful enough for me....I'll surely get around to writing about all 30!

I'm going to research and start on the Short Faced Bear this afternoon, or at least that is the plan.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 01, 2012:

Thanks very much, Mr. Tindle, if you like these kinds of hubs, then please also look into JKenny who left the first comment - his hubs on these subjects are always outstanding!

mecheshier on July 01, 2012:

What a great Hub. Wonderful pics and story. Thank you so much for sharing. Voted up for interesting

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on July 01, 2012:

That's one pussy cat I would not like to have jumping up on my bed. I would definitely have to sleep with one eye open. Mind you, burglars wouldn't be a problem.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on July 01, 2012:

Well I suppose that at least it would be quick if a Smilodon got you! I wonder if we will ever really know what killed off the megafauna, because I have read different theories about climate change, a comet, the arrival of humans, but I agree Wes that it was probably a combination of different things. Great information and an interesting hub

Nira Perkins on June 30, 2012:

This is an interesting article and I love your illustrations. Thanks for all this info!

Suzie from Carson City on June 30, 2012:

Wes....Haven't seen you in awhile! Glad you chose to give us an interesting tale about "cats," once again. I do have a facination with these creatures.

I can honestly say I'd have not believed a one thousand pound cat ever existed. I can barely imagine a kitty cat that enormous.......and those fangs, wow! up to 11 inches?

Your gory details of how they did their prey in....."crunching through the skull, into the brain.".....sort of mars the image of my loveable...playful kitty, "Tommy Trouble." His tiny fangs are less than an inch long..

I also find it very curious that although our canine children have the pack mentality....cats are famous for being loners... It is said that "cats" defy all rules about how and why animals become domesticated.

All of these characteristics of various animals, especially historically, is what spurs my interest in learning all about them.

It was not too long ago I read a lengthy article about the crossbreed you mentioned, the Liger. I Think it's a beautiful animal.

Wonderful research here, Wes......Thanks for doing the hard work for us. Nice article! UP++

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 30, 2012:

Yes, it is a strange scenario but the sea level was several hundred feet lower than today and the climate much drier too. There were vast grasslands for the amazing amount of herd animals to feed on too. So if the grasslands suddenly were gone it would affect many species of animals, both grazers and predators.

I believe some 30+ species went extinct at this time, quite a large number for some reason.


Mr Tindle on June 30, 2012:

Great hub, you have a lot of good and interesting information about this prehistoric predator. Voted up!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 30, 2012:

Thanks Randy!

I hadn't heard the wild fires theory, but of course we sure have a lot of wildfires today...and of course we have people to fight those...and of course they still typically wind up burning thousands of acres before containment - so goodness knows with no fire fighters....guess the fires burned until a large rainstorm came along, huh?

Yes I knew about the tar pits - I'm told that only the Dire Wolf had more attendance in the tar than did the Smilodon!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 30, 2012:

Very good info on the different species of smilodon, Wesman. Some believe these remarable animals disappeared along with the many other species of herd animals--horses, camels, mammoth, mastodon, giant bison, and other such creatures roughly 13,500 years ago.

While some favor the immigration of humans to the area--hunting these animals to extinction--this doesn't explain how the other herd creatures survived. I wrote a hub about the suspected causes of these extinctions and one of them is from meteor or asteroid explosions over North and South America causing vast wildfires which severely affected some herd species. Naturally, the predators who lived on them would suffer too.

The greastest assortment of smilodon bones are found at the La Brea tar pits in California. They were caught in the tar while trying to feed upon trapped animals. Some cool pics there too. Great article!


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 30, 2012:

Thanks JKenny!!!

Yep, I believe I got my first taste of "Monsters We Met" from one of your hubs!!!!!!

That short faced bear was the truly scary critter! I bet that Smilodon wouldn't hardly think a human worth his least not so long as there were big Bison and such to eat instead!

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on June 30, 2012:

Awesome Hub Wesman, what a coincidence, I've just published a Hub about the deadliest predators of all time, and smilodon features in the list. I love Monsters we Met, I've watched the documentary and read the book, and have since become fascinated with the extinction of the megafauna. Voted up etc.

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