SABERTOOTH - SMILODON: the deadliest tiger| your dinosaurs (2023)

The saber-tooth is a large feline whose main characteristic is that it has huge canines that measure about 17 cm and logically protrude from the sides of the mouth.

They are also known as "saber-toothed tigers or lions", but these designations are not entirely accurate, despite their physical resemblance.

In fact, one of the Smilodon species, the Smilodon populator, was as big as our current Bengal tiger, but it was much more muscular and powerful, and in terms of weight, it was much larger than our current tiger, weighing up to 400 kg.

Furthermore, we must take into account that within the Sabretooth family we find the subfamilies Macairodontes, Smilodon, Nimrávidas, Creodontos and Tilacosmíldos.

These subfamilies have their own characteristics and lived at different times and in different places on the planet.

Without further ado, let's get to know these giant toothed felines whose extinction is still not entirely clear, as there are two hypotheses:

(Video) Saber Tooth Tiger | Ice Age Prehistoric Mammals | Science Documentary 2019

  • That they suddenly ran out of food and had nothing to hunt.
  • rapid climate change.


saber tooth taxonomy

  • This cat belongs to the kingdom of Animalia.
  • Corresponds to the Chordata edge.
  • From the class of mammals.
  • Belongs to infraclass Placentália.
  • The specimen belongs to the order Carnivora.
  • Within the family Felidae.
  • There are several subfamilies Macairodons, Smilodon, Nimrávidas, Creodontos and Thylacosmíldos.
  • smilodon mortal
  • Smilodon gracilis
  • Smilodon villagers
  • I love him
  • Hoplophoninae
  • Creodonts (within this subfamily there are two isolated cases that can be considered saber-toothed tigers)
  • Tilakosmiles.

Of the mentioned subfamilies, we will focus on Smilodon and its species. Mainly to avoid creating an endless and confusing post by mixing some species with others, dates and locations.

Who and when was the saber-toothed smilodon discovered?

The saber-toothed inhabitant Smiliodon was discovered in 1841 in caves near Lagoa Santa, a city in Brazil, by the Danish naturist and paleontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund, who traveled several times to Brazil to collect, for the first time, a collection of plants and insects to collect. .

He became acquainted with the relevant caves through his compatriot Peter Claussen and discovered fossils of sabertooth and other Ice Age species.

Joseph Leidy discovered Smilodon fatalis in 1869. This sabertooth species was slightly smaller than the popular Smilodon; He weighed about 200 kg and was just over a meter tall.

The saber-toothed Smilodon gracilis was discovered by Edward Drinker Cope in 1880. It is the oldest of all Smilodon species and also the smallest, weighing a maximum of 100 kg.

La Brea Ranch

Comprised of a large number of tar lakes currently located in Hankock Park, California, Rancho la Brea is also the site where most of the fossils of various Ice Age species have been found, including over 10,000 species of animals, birds, mammals , reptiles, etc. .

It is also here that most Smilodon fossils have been found and the only Smilodon with a closed mouth has actually been found.

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When they fell here, the animals couldn't get out because the tar is sticky and thick and hinders the animal's movements, which is gradually swallowed until it disappears like quicksand. Either you have someone to help you and save you the moment you fall or say goodbye, because the more you move, the faster you bury yourself.

Characteristics of Smilodon - saber tooth

The Smilodon is the most popular prehistoric mammal, most often depicted in documentaries and cartoons such as the movie Ice Age.

The name Smilodon means "knife tooth". In fact, its huge canine teeth protruded from the sides of its mouth and could be up to 17 cm long with a bite that was fatal within seconds.

Studies have shown that it did not have jaw strength greater than the current lion and that it could not bite and hold prey while moving, but when it was really dangerous and deadly, the bite of the Smilodon was what the prey was restrained. and fixed to the floor.

In these situations, their canines do the work of tearing the prey apart. The fangs, in addition to their curved anatomy, ended in a pronounced point to easily penetrate their prey, these canines were serrated from the inside. So when he pulled them out of his prey's body, they completely ripped everything in their path: skin, flesh, veins and arteries.

If prey accidentally escaped after being bitten, it would bleed to death within minutes and be easily recovered by the sabertooth.

Another feature of Sabretooth was its large musculature, particularly that of the Poblano Smilodon, which was very stocky and stocky. It could weigh up to 400 kg, although its size was the same as our current Bengal tiger in terms of length and height. She is the "muscle" cat ever.

Due to his very muscular build, long-distance running was not his forte, especially when temperatures started to rise after the last Ice Age.

(Video) Difference between Smilodon and Sabertooth.

Another reason why he is not considered a great runner is that he had a short tail of about 35 cm.

Today's cats are known to have long tails that help them balance while walking.

Other notable properties of Smilodon are:

  • Its great sense of smell, much more developed than that of today's cats. This was discovered by the skulls found.
  • A very muscular neck.
  • Extremities very strong and muscular. The front legs would serve to hold and pull the prey to the ground, while the hind legs would carry all its weight and strength to reach the prey.
  • Retractable claws. Something cats have and not lions or tigers.

These features make the Smilodon more like a lynx than a lion or tiger.
Do you understand why we said at the beginning that calling him a tiger or a lion is not right?

Where and when did the saber tooth live?

The saber-toothed Smilodon lived in North and South America from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene. And one of the reasons it is believed to have gone extinct around this time was climate change.

However, there is also the theory that he suddenly had nothing left to hunt, in addition to the appearance of the male, who began to hunt his own prey, leaving them without food. Because it doesn't look like the man directly pursued him at any point. However, the latter has yet to be confirmed.

What is known for sure is that Smilodon lived in the great plains of North and South America where there was great abundance and variety of vegetation that served to support the large herbivores on which this great toothed saber fed.

food and behavior

Studies have shown that one of their main prey was the mammoth, so they hunted in groups and from ambush, just as lionesses do today. In both cases, they chased their prey from the sides until they cornered them.

Likewise, it is clear that its attack would depend on holding the prey with its powerful and strong forelimbs and throwing it to the ground, and then biting the neck to prevent the inflow of air while severing the carotid artery and the main veins to be torn. . and arteries, causing the animal to bleed almost instantly.

(Video) Saber Tooth Tiger Prehistoric Predator Full Documentary

Every day it seems to become clearer that sabertooths have specialized in hunting large prey such as bison, deer, elk, mammoths (which we have already mentioned), giant sloths, etc. And this specialization also led to its demise. .

What was also clear to us from these studies is that the wear and tear of their prey is not due to biting the bones of their prey, but rather to the number of hunts. They were the kings of hunting at that time.

The long tusks were held by both males and females, and even the size of the animal was similar between the sexes. This would lead us to think that their pack behavior would be similar to that of, say, hyenas or wolves. Although it is not known who would dominate the group, that is, it is not known whether it would be a matriarchal pack, as in the case of hyenas, or if the strongest specimen would simply lead the group, regardless of its gender, as is the case with hyenas. . affair with wolves

Although the fossils found were examined by groups, it was concluded that the groups were dominated by one or two dominant males who took care of the entire herd. Just like the lions are doing today.

Thanks to these fossils, it was also possible to discover that they took care of each other and shared food. This assumption was made when several Smilodon were discovered with broken healing bones that, had they lived alone and independently, would have died long before the bone began to heal.

And yes, although they were the kings of hunting, like all animals of that time and ours, they also had enemies to attack them, such as the direwolf, the bulldog, the short-faced bear, etc. , although this, as we already mentioned, has not yet been proven.


As we have already mentioned, the saber-tooth is not the ancestor of lions or tigers, although they all date back to the Late Oligocene, around 23 million years ago, when Proailurus lived, which is the first known feline and whose size would be similar. to the Iberian lynx.

About 16 million years ago, cats and macairodons emerged from Proailurus. Styriofelis turnauensis is the size of a cat and its teeth are short and not clenched; while Pseudaelurus quadridentatus is the size of a cougar and its upper canine teeth are long. There the Macairodontines' career as "super hunter" would begin.

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Six million years after the appearance of the first super-hunter, the Macarodont felines split again, with the appearance of Promegantereon ogygia, which resembles a leopard, and Machairodus aphanistus, which resembles a Siberian tiger.

And from the subfamily Machairodontinae comes Promegantereon, the first of the Smilodontines that will eventually become the Smilodon, first will be Smilodon gracilis, then Smilodon fatalis, and finally Smilodon populator, the greatest of all and the greatest king of the ice age hunt.

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