Genus: Smilodon (“Scalpel Tooth”)
Species: S. populator, S. fatalis, S. gracilis
Common Names: Sabertooth, Sabre-toothed Tiger, Saber-toothed cat
Though its large teeth were certainly involved in capturing and subduing prey, exactly how they were used is still debated among scientists. Many believe it used its teeth for stabbing prey, either in the animal’s throat, or its underside. Despite its strong teeth and powerful neck muscles, the bite force of Smilodon was actually weaker than modern big cats (about one third that of a lion).
The most prominent feature of Smilodon was its large canine teeth, which protruded from its upper jaw and could measure as long as 11 inches in the largest Smilodon species (Smilodon populator).
Smilodon was comparable in size to big cats of today – lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards – but it was built more heavily. It had a short tail and short rear limbs, while its front limbs were longer and its shoulders were raised much higher than the rear portion of its body.
The fur coloration and pattern of Smilodon is not known. Whether it had a mane, spots, stripes, or other features found in today’s big cats can’t be determined by available fossil evidence, but all are in the realm of possibility.
SIZE: 47 inches at the shoulder (120 cm)
WEIGHT: Up to over 880 pounds (400 kg), perhaps up to 1,000lbs (453 kg)
Smilodon lived from around two and a half million years ago, up until about 10,000 years ago, during what was called the Pleistocene Epoch. It likely lived in forests or wooded habitats, and fossil discoveries indicate that it was widespread all across North and South America.
There are three species of Smilodon recognized today, which lived in different areas across its range. Smilodon populator was the largest, and one of the largest species of the cat family ever to have lived. Smilodon gracilis was the smallest of the Smilodon species, while Smilodon fatalis was somwhere in between.
Recent genetic studies have shown that Smilodon shares a common ancestor with all other members of the cat family.