Monday, February 28, 2011

SABERTOOTH CATS

When I first started reading about sabertooth cats, I was shocked to learn that there are a whole bunch of different cat-looking animals with long, scary teeth, and they are all called sabertooth cats.  And I didn't know how I could ever find out about them all while doing my usual 15 minutes of in-depth research.  So Mom said I should just tell you about one sabertooth cat, which seemed like a good idea.  So the one I picked to tell you about is named Gertrude.  Hahahaha!  That was a joke!  Even though there really might have been a sabertooth cat named Gertrude.  But the one kind of sabertooth cat I am going to write about is named Smilodon fatalis.

The word smilodon comes from two Greek words that mean "chisel" and "tooth."  And the word fatalis comes from the same place as the word fatal, so we can tell just by the name of this cat that it can kill with its big chisel-teeth.  Luckily, the sabertooth cat has been extinct for about 10,000 years, so we don't have to worry about being attacked by one while we are out walking around the neighborhood.









A lot of people call these animals sabertooth tigers, but this is the wrong name for them because they are not really related to tigers.  All the different kinds of animals that are called "sabertooth" lived between 33.7 million and 9,000 years ago.  The Smilodon group are the ones we hear about most often because they lived in most of the U.S.  The canine teeth on these cats could be as long as 7 inches.  They were so long that they did not even fit inside the cat's mouth when it was closed.



Sabertooth cats were about the size of a lion, except they had a much heavier body, with shorter legs.  They were actually built more like bears than like cats.  Probably they could not run very fast, so the way they hunted was they stalked their prey and then jumped out and knocked it down with their heavy weight.  Sabertooths usually weighed between 600 and 750 pounds.  They had short tails and retractable claws.  Some scientists think that sabertooths might have been spotted, like leopards, because spots would have blended in best with the types of plants that were around in those days.





Nobody knows exactly how sabertooths lived, but they may have been social cats, like lions.  And the reason people think this is because (1) since they couldn't run very fast, it would be easier for them to hunt together to bring down big animals, (2) at the La Brea Tar Pits, a whole bunch of sabertooth fossils were found together, so maybe some of them came there together in a group, and (3) some fossils have broken bones that have healed, which makes scientists think that maybe the cats brought food to sick or injured members of their pack.




Sabertooth cats liked to eat big animals such as sloths, bison, deer, American camels, horses, and mammoths.  They may have got some of their food by scavenging, which would explain why they went to the La Brea Tar Pits and got stuck there while they were trying to eat mammoths and sloths that were stuck in the tar.  When they were hunting live prey, they probably brought the animal down with their weight, and then they used their long teeth to slash into the soft parts of the body so that the animal would bleed to death.




The long saber teeth were not good for crushing throats or spines or for holding onto an animal that was struggling.  If a sabertooth cat tried to do that, he would likely break off his teeth.  And actually, sabertooth cats didn't have very strong muscles for biting, like modern cats do.  Which is why they used their teeth for slashing.  And they had the advantage of being able to open their jaws really wide, like 120 degrees, and a lion can only open his jaw 65 degrees.










We don't know why the sabertooth went extinct, but it might have been because when the ice age ended, the environment changed, and a lot of big animals such as mammoths also went extinct.  The sabertooth was good at hunting big animals, but would not have been so good at hunting small animals because it couldn't run very fast.  I like to think this means that if a sabertooth cat saw a basenji and wanted to eat it, the basenji could outrun the cat.  But like I already said, we don't have to worry about that because the sabertooth cats are all extinct now.

10 comments:

  1. Wow...I told my mom that I bet my great-great-great-great, etc., ancestors were Sabertooth cats because I can open my mouth real wide too. My mom kind of rolled her eyes, so I don't think she agrees. I do know that would have been a scary time to live with big animals like that! I'm with you, I'm just glad we don't have to worry about them now!
    Love, Dodi

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  2. Dear Dodi,
    I'll bet you really did have ancient relatives who were sabertooth cats! Tell your mom she is being silly if she doesn't believe that.
    Love, Piper

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  3. Dear Piper,
    I NEVER knew that Saber tooth tigers weren't REALLY tigers that is really INTERESTING. I'd also add that it's cute that Dodi can open her mouth really wide! I think Aunt Patty should agree with what Dodi thinks- I mean she IS just a young cat. Plus I also have a question, why do eyes of a dog turn white when their picture is taken?
    Love,
    TAS,
    YOUR #1 fan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  4. I can answer your question about dogs' eyes without even having to look it up! They turn white like that because the light from the camera's flash is reflecting off the back of the eyeball, which is called the retina. A dog's retina really reflects a lot of light, which is why they can see pretty good in the dark -- like better than people can. Mom hates it when she takes pictures and gets that weird eye look. She calls it "alien eyes."
    Love, Piper

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  5. I SAW A SABER TOOTHED CAT IN THE MOVIE 10.OOO BC ON DVD A PREHISTORIC MAN HAD TO RESCUE HIS GIRL FRIEND WHO WAS KIDNAPPED BY SLAVE TRADERS AND ON THE QUEST THE CAVEMAN MET A SMILODOM AND BECAME FRIENDS WITH THE BIG CAT. THE CAT PROTECTED THE CAVE MAN AND HELP HIM RESCUSE HIS GIRLFRIEND FROM THE SLAVE TRADER.

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  6. THE SABER TOOTHED HUNTED LIVE ANIMALS SUCH AS THE AMERICAN CAMEL THE HORSE THE DEER THE GIANT GROUND SLOTH AND THE MAMMOTH FOR FOOD BUT SOME THINK THIS CAT COULND HAD FEED ON CARRION THE SABER TOOTHED CAT MIGHT HAD FEED ON BOTH LIVE PREY AND CARRION COME TO THINK OF IT THEREARE PRE

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  7. THERE ARE PREDATORY ANIMALS LIVING TODAY THAT FEED ON BOTH LIVE PREY/ CARRION SUCH AS LION TIGERS LEOPARDS WOLVES AND COYOTES ARE BOTH HUNTERS AND SCAVEGENGERS MAYBE THE SMILODON MIGHT HAD BEEN CARBONATION OF BOTH HUNTER AND CARRION. MANY AT
    SMILODON REMAINS HAVE BEEN FOUND THE SITE OF LA BARA TAR PIT IN SOUTHERN CALFORIA.

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  8. Smilodon fatalis, the North American species of saber-tooth, did not weigh 600-700 pounds. An average male or female weighed closer to 300. Males and females weighed about the same because there was little sexual dimorphism in this species.

    A South American species of saber-tooth did reach weights of 750 pounds.

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    Replies
    1. Dear markgelbart,
      Thank you for this information about the correct weight of saber-tooth cats. I did my research on the internet, where SOME facts are reported correctly, but others are not!
      Sincerely, Piper

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