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How Saber-tooth Cats Worked

Saber-tooth Cat Summary

Saber-tooth cats, which are commonly yet improperly referred to as saber-tooth tigers, weighed up to 750 pounds and were built like compact lions. There are many different types of saber-tooth cats, and they existed in different time periods. Some saber-tooth cats lived 9 million years ago, while others lived on Earth up to the last ice age, which was 10,000 years ago. The more recent saber-tooth cats became extinct due to a loss of available prey. After the mastodons and other large mammals died out, there wasn't enough food to support the saber-tooth cats because they weren't fast enough to hunt the smaller animals.

Saber-tooth cats had very pronounced canines, which they used for ripping and slicing the throats and abdomens of their prey. Even though their canines were massive and intimidating, their jaws weren't strong enough to bite through bones. So, the cats had to use their canines like knives as opposed to crushing the spines of their prey. Saber-tooth cats had baby teeth, just like humans and other mammals have. After their baby canines fell out, the adult canines grew at a rate of 8 millimeters per month for 18 months. It would seem that having such enormous teeth would make biting and chewing rather difficult, but saber-tooth cats' jaws could open up to 120 degrees wide, enabling them to use the canines more precisely.

There are differing views regarding saber-tooth cats' social behavior, and, because they are now extinct, we may never know the truth. Some paleontologists believe that they were social cats that hunted in packs, while others believed them to be solitary stalkers of prey. Scientists have found saber-tooth cat fossils that displayed serious injuries, though the injuries appeared to have healed over time. Many scientists believe that such fossils could not exist unless healthy saber-tooth cats looked after the injured ones. However, other scientists believe that those fossils came from cats that lived off stored fats and proteins while their injuries healed.

Top 5 Saber-tooth Cat Facts

  1. Saber-tooth cats' canines grew up to 7 inches long.

­­­­­Learn more about saber-tooth anatomy.

  1. Saber-tooth cats did not have long tails like lions, which means that their balance would have been substantially worse.

Learn more about saber-tooth anatomy.

  1. Saber-tooth cats fed on large, slow, ice-age mammals.

Learn more about how saber-tooth cats worked.

  1. Saber-tooth cats may have been more closely-related to lions than tigers.

Learn more about how saber-tooth cats worked.

  1. Saber-tooth cat fossils are among the most common mammal fossils found in the Rancho La Brea tar pits in California.

­Click here to learn about the fossil evidence which indicates that there may have been social saber-tooths.