|...Meow? [photo by the author]|
It's rather shame that there's not really such a creature as a sabretooth tiger.
Smilodon Was a Cool Cat
Smilodon gracilis is the oldest species, appearing at the start of the Pleistocene Epoch, about 2.5 million years ago; it is also the smallest species, at about 55-100 kilograms (121-220 pounds), comparable to a cougar or a leopard. This species evolved in North America, likely from a species of the earlier sabretooth Megantereon, and spread to northern South America in the Great American Biotic Interchange. S. gracilis is believed to be the direct ancestor of the two better-known Smilodon species of the mid Pleistocene-early Holocene.
Smilodon populator, from eastern South America, was the largest Smilodon species and one of the largest cats of all time, weighing in at a whopping 220-400 kilograms (485-882 pounds) and standing some 120 centimetres (47 inches) at the shoulders. S. populator evolved about one million years ago, and went extinct around 10,000 years ago.
The species that is probably the most familiar in the public consciousness and that will be the focus of the rest of this post is the North American Smilodon fatalis. Although smaller than its South American congener, S. fatalis was still a very big cat: 160-280 kilograms (353-617 pounds) and up to 100 centimetres (39 inches) at the shoulder. Some North American Smilodon are assigned to separate species S. californicus (as the one in the Beneski Museum is labelled) and S. floridanus, but these are generally considered to be junior synonyms of S. fatalis. S. fatalis first appeared about 1.6 million years ago, and like S. populator, survived until as recently as 10,000 years ago.
|Smilodon fatalis, drawn by the author.|
|Smilodon fatalis (left) with the author (right, poorly photographed).|
Trapped In Tar
Smilodon, represented by the remains of some 2,100 individuals, is the second-most common animal found at the La Brea Tar Pits, after the dire wolf Canis dirus. This is unusual; carnivores are rarely the most abundant animals in an environment, so why are there so many of them at Rancho La Brea?
- Page Museum
- Florida Museum of Natural History
- Switek, Brian. 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Sabercats.' Aeon.
- Christiansen, Per, and John M. Harris. 'Body size of Smilodon (Mammalia: Felidae).' Journal of Morphology 266.3 (2005): 369-384.