Saber-Toothed Cat, Smilodon fatalis
January 2009

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*How Do We Know This? Like living animals, fossil remains of once-living animals are
classified and grouped according to their relationships to each other and to their ancestors.

(Barnett 2005) (Hunt 1996) (Janczewski et al 1992) (Shaw and Cox 2006) (Turner 1997)
(Wilson & Reeder 2005)

Describer (Date): Lund, 1842 for Smilodon; Leidy 1868 for Smilodon fatalis

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
        Class: Mammalia
             Order: Carnivora
                    Family: Felidae
                          Subfamily: Felinae (cheetah, lynx, bobcat, caracal, puma, fishing cat, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, serval, domestic cat)
                          Subfamily: Pantherinae (leopard, lion, tiger, jaguar, snow leopard)
                          Subfamily: Machairodontinae (extinct saber-toothed cats)
                               Genus: Smilodon
                                  Species: Smilodon fatalis
                                  Species: Smilodon gracilis
                                  Species: Smilodon populator
                               Genus: Homotherium

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature


*How Do We Know This? Scientists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate
tectonic movements, and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil
distribution patterns and ancient habitats.

(Berta 1985) (Shaw 2001) (Shaw & Cox 2006) (Turner 1997)


  • Most fossils found in sediments from plains or woodland environments
  • In contrast to another saber toothed cat, Homotherium, Smilodon not found in cave deposits
  • Smilodon's anatomy suggests its preferred habitat: (Shaw 2001)(Cox and Shaw 2006)

    *How Do We Know This? Careful study of fossil bone or tooth anatomy yields
    much exact information about placement and strength of muscles, tendons,
    ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. In rare cases, skin and hair impressions or
    actual skin or hair is preserved. Body weight is more difficult to gauge because fat
    leaves no impression on the skeleton.

    (Christiansen 2007) (Christiansen & Harris 2005)
    (Jefferson 2001)
    (Shaw & Cox 2006) (Turner 1997) (Van Valkenburgh & Sacco 2002)

    Estimated Body Weight:
       Smilodon fatalis: 160-280 kg (353-617 lb)
       Smilodon gracilis: 55-100 kg (121-221 lb)
    Smilodon populator: Up to 400 kg (882 lb)
    Body Length: Smilodon fatalis: 175 cm (68.9 in) (measured rump to snout)
    Height at Shoulder: Smilodon fatalis: 100 cm (39.37 in)
    Tail Length: Smilodon fatalis: 35 cm (13.8 in)

    General Description
    Teeth Pelage Sexual Dimorphism Other Physical Characteristics

    *How Do We Know This? Since direct observation of a fossil animal's behavior
    isn't possible, paleontologists use comparison and contrast with living animals for
    guidance. Tracks can sometimes reveal further clues.

    (Carbone et al 2008) (McCall et al 2003) (Meachen-Samuels and Binder 2009) (Shaw & Cox 2006) (Shaw

    Social Life
    Interspecies Interaction

    *How Do We Know This? Clues to fossil mammals' diets come from not only teeth,
    but also skull shape, from fossil dung and gut contents, from microscopic viewing of
    wear on teeth, from lab analysis of oxygen isotopes in bone and teeth, and by looking
    at diets of similar modern animals.

    (Annyonge 1996) (Feranec 2002) (Valkenburgh et al 1990)

    *How do We Know This? Abnormalities in fossils bones may show evidence
    of arthritis, cancer, nutritional stress, fractures and more.

    (Annyonge 1996) (Bjorkengren et al 1987)(Duckler 1997)

    Important Web Resources
    (and where to view fossils in museums):

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