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Above: Front of Specimen Card
With twin, serrated, canine teeth measuring 8 inches (20 cm) and backed by 600 pounds (275 kg) of muscle, Smilodon fatalis is one of the most iconic animals of the Pleistocene Epoch. While the look of this stocky animal gave rise to its popular name, saber-tooth tigers are only distantly related to modern big cats.
Above: Smilodon Bone from the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum. Now available as a single specimen!
This specimen is a fragment of a Smilodon fatalis femur recovered on private land in Florida. This species of Smilodon ranged across North America and into the western half of South America for roughly 1.5 million years, finally succumbing with other megafauna during the Quaternary Extinction Event 10,000 years ago.
Above: Smilodon Bone specimen.
The specimen measures approximately 5mm and comes in an acrylic jar, which housed inside a glass-topped Riker display box measuring 4x3x1 (inches). A small information card accompanies the specimen and serves as the certificate of authenticity.
"If you think about it, Smilodon fatalis likely left their paw prints on what is today Hollywood Boulevard long before Marilyn Monroe left her handprints at the Chinese Theater."
~ Z. Jack Tseng, Paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History
There were three different species of Smilodon. Smilodon gracilis is the earliest-known and smallest member of the genus with the oldest fossils dating to 2,500,000 years ago. It likely descended from the sabertooth Megantereon, which colonized North America from Eurasia. Smilodon gracilis reached South America about 1,000,000 years ago and gave rise to the largest Smilodon of all, Smilodon populator, a massive beast that approached 900 pounds and roamed east of the Andes, from Venezuela south to Patagonia.
Above: Smilodon skeleton (Image Credit: Michelle Crawford)
The highest-profile species in the genus, Smilodon fatalis, is primarily recorded in North America, where it competed with giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, American lions, and other formidable fellow Pleistocene carnivores. Smilodon fatalis also strayed into western South America, separated by the Andes from its larger cousin, Smilodon populator.
Smilodon’s short, muscular legs, a stocky frame, and those enormous sabers lead many paleontologists to suppose these cats were ambush hunters of large mammals such as bison and juvenile mammoths and mastodons. While scientists aren’t entirely sure of its exact predatory methods, a leading theory suggests Smilodon reached its quarry with a short burst of explosive speed and seized it with one paw over the shoulder or back and another twisting the victim’s head.
Above: Smilodon upper skull: Cope, E. D. 1880
Such a grappling move would expose the prey’s throat, and a slash by Smilodon’s sabers could then efficiently cut the carotid artery and/or jugular. Some biomechanical models suggest that Smilodon might have relied on those powerful neck muscles to sink their long teeth into prey. Both theories are quite different than using bite force to crush the windpipe as cats do today.
Turner, Alan. The Big Cats & Their Fossil Relatives: An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution & Natural History. Columbia University Press, 1997.
Antón, Mauricio. Sabertooth. Indiana University Press, 2013.
Naples, Virginia L. et al. (editors). The Other Saber-Tooths: Scimitar-Tooth Cats of the Western Hemisphere. The John Hopkins University Press, 2011.
Above: Back of Specimen Card