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The Sabercat Thread


  • This study about the South American species S. populator suggests it was an open plains hunter despite its ambushing adaptations, and either competed for food with the large wild dog Protocyon or provided much of the latter's food through its kills.


  • This makes sense considering another study according to which, Smilodon's skeleton allowed it to crouch very low to the ground (even more so than modern cats) thus completely hiding it in tall grass despite its large size.


  • size and muscles would indicate a similar life style to modern day lions in my mind.

  • Interesting. But a lot of illustrations, AFAIR, had the smilidont on tree branches to bring down on the prey. This was likely based on the US Mountain lion modus operendi: the added bonus of the smilodont's teeth being an ideal scimitar to take down large prey.

  • The leopard uses that tactic more often than the mountain lion if I'm not mistaken.


    Seeing as the larger species of Smilodon (North American fatalis and South American populator) reached 200-500 kgs whereas leopards and mountain lions usually weigh about 60-90 kgs, I doubt the former would've been agile tree climbers. Adult lions and tigers today are pretty clumsy when it comes to tree climbing.
    On the other hand, Smilodon gracilis was about jaguar-sized, so it may have been better at it than the larger cousins.


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  • Fossilized pawprints of Smilodon populator found- as expected are bigger than a tiger's:

    These are not the first sabertoothed cat footprints known (Homotherium footprints are apparently known from Mexico), but they do seem to be the first known for Smilodon populator.


  • I am dubious that they are definitely Smilodon prints, although if pushed I can not think of other viable suspects.

    I will keep an open mind for now.

  • Was found in Chad, and would've coexisted with Sahelanthropus (an ape sometimes posited as a human ancestor).
    Interestingly, Tchadailurus would've also coexisted with four other kinds of sabertoothed cat, including a previously unknown species of Dinofelis (made famous by Walking with Beasts as a potential Australopithecus-eater), Lokotunjailurus (a sabertooth adapted to high speed running, like a cheetah), Megantereon (often considered the ancestor genus to the famous Smilodon), and Amphimachairodus kabir. The latter was enormous, estimated at nearly half a ton, and probably specialized in hunting very large prey. Tchadailurus being about the size of a lynx would've hunted smaller prey, but probably bigger than a same-size lynx would, considering the long canines. Maybe Sahelanthropus had to be wary of it too.

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  • Life size reconstruction of the "scimitar cat", Homotherium.

    This reconstruction is from Spain's Museo de Evolución Humana (



    It really shows how big these cats got. One specimen whose skeleton was recovered from the North Sea was estimated at 400 kilograms, which is larger than today's Siberian tigers by a considerable margin. As if that alone weren´t scary enough, Homotherium had the one thing big cats today don´t- stamina to chase after prey for long distances, like wolves or hyenas do.


  • Here's a study that contradicts the popular theory that Smilodon, the quintessential "sabertooth tiger", had fragile fangs and thus couldn´t bite into the hard parts of its victim's body without the canines breaking.

    It should be noted that direct and indirect evidence of sabercats biting through bone was already known from several bits of evidence, one of them being the discovery of a Canis dirus (dire wolf) skull in California that bore deep puncture marks from a Smilodon fatalis' bite, and another a hominin (Homo sp.) skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, which apparently was deeply bitten into by a Megantereon (Smilodon's Old World ancestor).

    In the latter case, the researchers compared the puncture wounds to the canines of other large predators present at the same time and area, including the Old World jaguar (Panthera gombaszoegensis) and the scimitar cat (Homotherium), but only Megantereon provided a perfect fit.

    It has been suggested that the hominin was caught during an attempt to steal or scavenge the cat's kill. IMO it is just as possible that, like lions, tigers and leopards today, sabercats simply saw hominins as perfectly suitable prey.


    There is also a glyptodont's skull that shows deep bite marks that have at some point been blamed on a jaguar (because of the jaguar's habit of killing by biting through the skull rather than by strangulation). However, there is also the possibility that the bite was inflicted by a sabercat, possibly Smilodon itself.

    The new study adds to this evidence by presenting two skulls of the larger, South American species Smilodon populator, both of which bear deep puncture wounds that fit perfectly another Smilodon's bite. One of the cats died soon after being injured, while the other, amazingly, healed and survived.


    taphonomic processes can be ruled out as the
    producer of the damage. In addition, in specimens MCA
    2046 and MRFA-PV-0564, the bone lacks the typical surface pattern that characterizes some cancerous lesions or
    other kind of illness (...)

    ... the only agent that may stand as the possible producer of
    these injuries is another large animal with the capability to
    injure saber-toothed skulls. Because in both specimens the
    hole is single and elliptical, it is unlikely that the holes are
    the result of kicking of a three-toed litoptern, a four-toed
    toxodont, a two-toed large artiodactyl, or a transverselybroad toed horse. Bears, canids and other carnivores have
    conical canines that are subcircular in contour, resulting
    in round holes different from the ellipsoidal-shaped holes
    reported here. (...)

    Large-clawed giant ground-sloths could be other potential producers of the injuries described here. Most ground-sloths have sharp claws, especially on digit III of the manus and pes. However, these claws are transversely
    broad and have lateral and ventral longitudinal keels that
    should have resulted in very different injuries from those
    reported here.

    The size and general contours of the injuries present
    in specimens MCA 2046 and MRFA-PV-0564 are consistent with the size and contours observed in the upper
    canines of Smilodon. In fact, when a blade-like upper canine
    of a Smilodon specimen is inserted through the described
    opening, both perfectly match in size and shape.

    As a result, we suggest that they were
    done by the upper canines of another Smilodon specimen
    during agonistic interactions. Also, skull injuries similar to those reported here have been described in the
    machairodontine Machairodus by Geraads et al. (2004),
    who described a hole between the orbits at the level of the
    frontals that caused the death of the animal. This hole is
    congruent in size and shape with the hypertrophied upper
    canines of Machairodus. This indicates that intraspecific
    combat was probably widespread in machairodontines.

    Recent studies indicate
    that derived sabercats, such as Smilodon, were capable of
    high force outputs at the jaw and carnassials (...)

    Our present report counters previous hypotheses on
    Smilodon predatory behavior and indicates that Smilodon
    canines could have been effectively employed on intraspecific and interspecific fighting, and were strong enough to penetrate

    The study also mentions that bites through the skull are not uncommon cause of death among modern day felids- including the jaguar, cheetah, puma and ocelot- usually among males fighting over territory or mating rights, and much more rarely while defending a kill. It is likely that Smilodon fought for the same reasons.

  • thanks so much for posting this!

    I was always fascinated with the Sabre tooth cats from a young age. I remember drawing a Smilodon in class in school one day and the teacher saying that I had a very vivid imagination. Wouldn't believe me when I said it was an extinct cat.

    I was also fascinated by the Thylacosmilus - which isn't a feline at all, and how they developed their Sabres.

    I hope they will find a frozen carcass, would love to see what they would have looked like in the flesh.

  • Kamili wrote: »

    I was also fascinated by the Thylacosmilus - which isn't a feline at all, and how they developed their Sabres.

    The way Thylacosmilus' canine roots arch over its orbits is all sorts of crazy! Really interesting animal as well.
    Kamili wrote: »
    I hope they will find a frozen carcass, would love to see what they would have looked like in the flesh.

    It is very possible that mummified Smilodon populator remains are waiting to be found at the Cueva del Milodon site in Chile, or the many surrounding caves, yet to be fully explored.

    Cueva del Milodon has already yielded spectacularly preserved remains of the giant ground sloth Mylodon, including intact skin, claws with their keratinous sheaths, and droppings that still look (and smell!) fresh.


    There's also seldom mentioned but very interesting skin samples found during the early XX century at the cave, that were seemingly adhered to a pantherine's bones, and were originally described as jaguar. A recent studyre-interprets these remains, including the skin as coming from Panthera atrox instead, the so called American lion. Problem is Panthera cats are skeletally almost identical, extremely difficult to tell apart even for experts; the skin looks lion-like to me, but its only a small sample.


    There IS ample evidence that this pantherine cat was the most common large predator in the area, and that it was actively preying on the Mylodon ground sloth at the cave (the most recent study to detail this evidence calls the cat a jaguar, Panthera onca mesembrina, so there's obviously still uncertainty over its identity).

    As it happens, Smilodon populator too is reported from this same site (at least in the Pampas region, giant ground sloths, including the formidable, elephant-sized Megatherium, were an important part of Smilodon's diet, so it may have been after the same prey as the pantherine).

    And of course, Homotherium, another sabercat, is known to have inhabited the same cold habitats as the woolly mammoth and rhino, so a frozen carcass of one is not out of the question either.


    It may just be a matter of time. :pac:

  • The study suggests that Smilodon fatalis (the species found at the famous La Brea fossil site in California) did not hunt in open plains but instead in forests, along with cougars and the American lion.

    The study contradicts previous ones according to which Smilodon (and the American lion) would've lived in the open plains and directly compete with dire wolves (something that is supported by sabercat bite marks on dire wolf skulls AND the fact that dire wolves and sabercats are the most abundant carnivores at the La Brea site to begin with).

    I am personally not convinced by this study. It seems to imply that all the cats were hunting in forested environments, and all the canids were hunting in the open plains, neatly avoiding competition with each other. But it seems odd that sabercats and American lions and cougars and even jaguars would be all crowded in dense forests (where large prey is less abundant). What about competition with each other?

    In modern days, big cats are not exclusively associated with one kind of environment- we associate lions with open plains, but they originally also lived in forested regions. We associate tigers with the jungle but they are known to have lived in open grasslands. Like them, Smilodon was very widespread (fossils have been found from Canada to southern Patagonia) and is known to have lived in the open plains of South America, directly competing with the canid Protocyon, and even in the Andes. It would seem to me that it was as adaptable and flexible as lions and tigers are today, and that its only requirement was the presence of suitable prey.


  • Visiting friends this evening, the topic turned to Smilodons.

    The 4-year old was suitably well informed, compared to his dad. :)

  • Victor wrote: »
    Visiting friends this evening, the topic turned to Smilodons.

    The 4-year old was suitably well informed, compared to his dad. :)

    Any visit to friends is worth it if sabercats are discussed, me thinks. :pac:

  • lol Victor next time try getting the lad involved in LIOPLEURIDON that will really blow the friend's mind :D

  • Skull of enormous sabercat found in Uruguay.

    The skull belonged to a Smilodon populator, the largest of the Smilodon species, of which fossilized pawprints were recently found in Argentina. The skull comes from a very large individual even for S. populator standards; the study estimates the living animal at 436 kg, which is far larger than any recorded lion or tiger, making it one of the largest sabercats ever found, one of the largest cats in general, and surely the apex predator of its ecosystem.

    The paper suggests that not even the elephant-sized Stegomastodon (a gomphothere) or Megatherium (a giant ground sloth) would've been safe from attack by these giant cats, and that only the giant bear Arctotherium would've been larger among the carnivorans of that time and region.


  • Adam Khor wrote: »
    The skull comes from a very large individual even for S. populator standards; the study estimates the living animal at 436 kg, which is far larger than any recorded lion or tiger, making it one of the largest sabercats ever found, one of the largest cats in general, and surely the apex predator of its ecosystem.

    I can't get over the weight of that fella. 436kg is te size of a small pony, and my horse is 560kg and she stands 16hh at her withers.

    It must have been a massive beast!

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  • Kamili wrote: »
    I can't get over the weight of that fella. 436kg is te size of a small pony, and my horse is 560kg and she stands 16hh at her withers.

    It must have been a massive beast!

    It does boggle the mind. It would be heavier even than Hercules, the famous liger (lion/tiger hybrid) said to be the largest cat in the world right now at 418 kg.



    Keep in mind though that Smilodon populator had different proportions; it would probably be shorter in length but taller at the shoulder than a similarly sized pantherine. The sabercat's shoulders, neck, arms and paws would be larger as well, with larger claws (especially that of the first toe, or "thumb" which was seemingly more developed for grasping in sabercats) than in modern cats.

    Here's another huge liger named Apollo who reportedly weighs around 316 kg.



    Of today's cats, only the tiger, the lion and their hybrid offspring reach the 300 kg threshold, and only exceptionally. Sabercats it appears gave rise to species reaching and surpassing this size several times. Besides Smilodon populator, there's Machairodus horribilis, estimated at 405 kg, Amphimachairodus kabir estimated at 360 kg (although the original description suggested a maximum weight of up to 490 kg!), Xenosmilus hodsonae (a very atypical, bear-like cat with shark-like, serrated teeth which is believed to have reached 300 or even 400 kg), and Amphimachairodus giganteus at 320 kg.

    There was also an individual of Homotherium ("scimitar cat") that was estimated at 400 kg, although this species seemingly varied greatly in size across its wide geographical range.



    As far as we know, all of these giant sabercats were already extinct when modern Homo sapiens appeared, except for Smilodon and Homotherium which did last until the late Pleistocene-early Holocene, although we don´t have any direct evidence of interaction with humans.



  • Many thanks to board user MeteoritesEire for sharing the link to this e-book, made available for free by the John Hopkins University Press! Each chapter can be individually downloaded as a PDF.

    Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth

    edited by Lars Werdelin, H. Gregory McDonald, and

    Christopher A. Shaw, 2018

  • New stable isotope study reveals diet and ecological relationships between Brazilian Pleistocene megafauna. It shows that Smilodon populator hunted a wide range of prey, from horses and camelids to giant sloths and gomphotheres (elephant-like beasts), and even caiman. It also suggests it would've hunted in both forested areas and plains, and would probably have been a social hunter as has been suggested for the North American species, S. fatalis.


  • Smilodon's skeleton had adaptations that allowed it to lay flat on the ground when stalking prey, even more so than modern cats; apparently the shoulder blades and hips were shaped so that they didn´t stick above the line of the back, meaning it would hardly be visible when hiding in grass or other vegetation.

    he extinct sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis, has long been considered to be an ambush predator because it was large‐bodied and short‐limbed. Smilodon’s skeleton is robust, and has been reconstructed as heavily muscled because it shows prominent muscle scars. Because of this high degree of robustness, it has also been thought to have had questionable flexibility. No characters showing specific enhancements to Smilodon’s adaptations for clandestine stalking despite its formidable musculoskeletal anatomy have been identified in a search of the published literature. This study describes morphological features that have been newly identified as being able to improve this sabercat’s ability to move sinuously and stealthily during an ambush. These are derived from unique pectoral girdle and forelimb, vertebral column and pelvic girdle and hindlimb features. Specifically, truncated scapular and ilial shapes as well as short limbs give Smilodon a lower crouching profile than can be achieved by other felids. Usually, in sinuously moving cats, even when the animal is seeking to remain as cryptic as possible, the posterodorsal aspect of the scapula and the anterodorsal ilial regions project above the pointed dorsal tips of the elongated vertebral spinous processes. These highest projections may be visible above any vegetation cover, revealing the cat’s presence to potential prey. In contrast, in Smilodon, with fore and hindlimbs equivalently flexed, the shoulder and hip regions fall below the level of the most dorsal tips of the spinous processes, enhanci

  • DNA study on the so called scimitar cat Homotherium latidens, one of the most succesful large predators of the Pleistocene, reveals new details on its kinship with modern cats. The study suggests that the ancestors of sabercats diverged from the ancestors of all modern cats over 22 million years ago- making sabercats more distantly related to modern cats than we humans are to gibbons!

    Although a long-lived species and very widespread throughout Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, Homotherium fossils are scarce which had led to paleontologists believing it was a rare animal, found at low densities even for a large carnivore. The new study however shows high genetic diversity which suggests constant genetic flow between the different populations. They must have been more numerous than previously thought.

    Homotherium was one of the two last sabercats to walk the Earth (along with Smilodon). It varied in size throughout its range; in average it was about lion-sized, but with different proportions, including a longer neck, longer forelimbs and a sloping back similar to a hyena's. It would've been an endurance runner, better able to follow or chase prey over long distances than any modern cat. It also seems to have been diurnal. These differences would've been key to avoiding direct competition with similarly-sized cats such as tigers and lions.