Monday, February 28, 2011
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 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.
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.