Not A Lion

Museums have limited space which means many pieces remain buried away in storage with little chance of being displayed, but once in a while they are re-discovered like the ancient fossil that was recently examined by paleontologists in the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya. Hidden away waiting for its story to be told was a jaw bone from a ‘giant lion’ that had been unearthed decades ago, stored in a drawer and forgotten about until now.

“Simbakubwa kutokaafrika”, which means “big lion from Africa” in Swahili, belongs to a long extinct group of some of the largest terrestrial carnivorous mammals known, Hyainailourine hyaenodonts, which roamed the earth about 22 millions years ago. Despite the name this animal was not a lion or related to the cats, rather it was a member of a group of mammals who had teeth closely resembling a hyenas, even though they are also unrelated.

Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Simbakubwa was estimated to have weighed up to 1,500kg and could have preyed upon elephant-like creatures that lived during the same time.  Image AFP

Simbakubwa wasn’t just any big carnivore, it was significantly larger than a modern lion and polar bear with an equally impressive jaw and blade like teeth to match its super size. In addition to the front canines Simbakubwa had three pairs of meat slicing teeth in the back – to put that into perspective carnivores like the modern lion, domestic cat, raccoons and wolves only have one pair. Conjuring up images of a perfect and frightening killing machine the fossil will serve to help researchers put together the missing pieces of what life and the environment may have been like for these hyper-carnivores and their prey, as well as shed light on why they went extinct.

 Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Image – Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Simbakubwa kutokaafrika (A,B,C) mandible, with Panthera leo (D) mandible for comparison.

Hyaenodonts dominated the scene for a long time but ultimately disappeared along with their relatives by the end of the Miocene epoch, approximately five million years ago. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why such a powerful and well adapted species went extinct, but not unlike modern carnivores, Simbakubwa was likely a victim of changes in its environment. They hypothesize that due to this disruption their prey also started to vanish and Simbakubwa soon followed unable to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.

 Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Fact file on an ancient giant predator that lived 23 million years ago in Africa AFP/Jonathan WALTER ©AFP Image – Channel News Asia

Paleontologist Matthew Borths tells National Geographic that modern hyper-carnivores like lions and tigers “are among the most endangered mammals we have, and part of the reason for that is they’re so sensitive to environmental disruption”. He goes on to say that since their populations are relatively small compared to other organisms, they suffer most when the food chain begins to destabilize.

Giant lion or not Simbakubwa is still a fascinating discovery with a story that can be taken as a reminder of just how fragile species are and, in the Anthropocene that is something to think about as we try to save modern predators like tigers and lions from extinction.

Predators, Dreams, and Extinctions — chasing sabretooths

From one of my favorite blogs, prehistoric cats and beautiful illustrations from paleo-artist Mauricio Antón. I love his work and this piece in particular has an important and timely message!

“Now as you look to the assembly of magnificent carnivorans from the Miocene of Batallones, just imagine your grandchildren facing a similar illustration, but showing the lion, leopard, wolf, lynx, polar bear… by then completely extinct in the wild. Imagine the desolation of knowing that there is nowhere in the world where lions or tigers reign as sabertooths reigned in the distant past. Today those places still exist but if one day they disappear it will be, at least in part, because of our own idleness. Just by having a clear opinion and making it heard, or through our vote, we can make a difference. But trying to convince ourselves that extinction doesn´t matter is perhaps the ultimate sign of cowardice, and thinking that future generations will not be aware enough of their loss to reproach us is the farthest thing from a consolation. We need the fossils in the museums and the living predators out in the wild. Each thing in its place!”

I remember well the first excavations at the fossil site of Batallones-1, over a quarter of a century ago. After some teeth of the saber-tooth cat Promegantereon appeared at the site it seemed likely that, for the first time ever, a complete skull of the mysterious animal could be found. Back then, that possibility excited […]

via Predators, Dreams, and Extinctions — chasing sabretooths

Be The Creature

During my recent visit to LA I stopped by the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum again and this time I made sure to take in the Ice Age Encounters stage show where the audience is transported back to the prehistoric past to meet one of its most fierce and well-known predators – a life-size adult Saber-Toothed Cat.

The Natural History Museum (NHM) and The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, worked together with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to recreate and bring to life this long extinct animal. The result is an entertaining and educational live performance that is great for people of all ages and, I will admit to being as excited as some of the youngest members in the audience upon seeing the Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon Fatalis) puppet, or creature, for the first time.

The puppet is undoubtedly the star of the show so it could be very easy to overlook the fact that it takes a team of people to bring her (in case you were wondering the creature is a ‘she’ and her nickname is Cali) to life.

To find out more about what goes into the show what is it like to be the creature I interviewed puppeteer and member of the performing arts team Betsy Zajko, who literally walks in the paws of the cat. Betsy has been puppeteering the cat for just over six years and is part of a team of performers who work at both LA’s NHM and the La Brea Tar Pits.

Q How did you end up puppeteering Saber-Toothed Cat for the Ice Age Encounters show?

BZ I saw the job listing on-line where a lot of performers go to look for work and the job posting had a list of skill sets that fit everything I could do. They needed someone who could host, work with kids, operate heavy machinery without much visibility, and who doesn’t have a problem with claustrophobia. With a background in circus arts, theater, hosting, writing for NPR and CBS I had all the skills that matched to the job description, so I put together an audition.

Q What was the audition like for this role?

BZ At that time we were asked to write a short show under five minutes and they gave us less than a day to put it together and to demonstrate physical stamina. I did a presentation on centrifugal force, because at that time I was doing fire dancing in LA on the side, and I used this tool called poi to demonstrate centrifugal force and spinning cups of water around in the air without water falling out. It was a short presentation and then the physical skill set was mainly strength and flexibility. This is the first puppet I ever operated but with my training and background, which included trapeze, fire dancing and stilt walking, I thought I could handle her. I got the job and then learned how to puppeteer.

Q With limited visibility how did you learn to operate the creature?

BZ  The space we perform in is a small stage and like any performance space you learn blocking. We can vary the blocking but the basic points are set and once I learned my space, I could probably do the show with my eyes closed because I know so well how many steps it takes to get to certain places on stage… as long as the set pieces are in the same place. There is some visibility though, imagine crawling on all fours on the two front legs of the cat (which are my hands) I can see in between the paws on the floor and, about a foot more in front.

Q Did you study big cat movements in order to make the performance more realistic?

BZ Yes, we took several trips to the zoo to study big cats, took video, used YouTube as resource to watch animal movement and also practiced with people who specialize in creature performing. There is actually a person in town who taught the full suit creature performers in films at one time and also people on staff like Eli Presser our Technical Coordinator who is also a creature performer.

Q What was the greatest challenge learning to perform as the cat?

BZ The greatest challenge is when you are new to the creature, but after 6 years I am comfortable inside of her. Initially the hardest part was trying to figure out what that creature is capable of and what your body can sustain. The first time I climbed inside before she had skin we were trying to figure out what type of stilts would work on the arms because they were still working out how to design the arms. They had a couple of prototypes but we eventually ended up with ones that were most ergonomically easy to work with. We work together with the person (Remote Control Operator) who operates the animatronics in her face, I do the body and the second puppeteer operates her face, this is different from other creatures that we operate at the NHM where the person inside operates everything.

For me learning to operate the animatronics in her face was another challenge and since I had no experience in gaming or using remote controls, as many of my colleagues do, I had to learn that along the way.

La Brea Tar Pits Museum, Ice Age Encounters, Saber-toothed Cat, Smilodon, Smilodon fatalis, Cats In Art, Puppets, Performing Artists, Teaching Kids about prehistoric animals, Prehistoric Cats, Extinct animals, Fossils, How Do you Museum

Remote Control Operator Jamie Lozano (Left) Quadruped (Saber-Toothed Cat) Performer Betsy Zajko (Right) with the Creature

Q Was the creature designed around your body?

BZ  They have to make a mold in order to create the creature and my body was used to make the mold. Although I am partial to her, as I also love cats, I can’t claim her as my own,  but I have seen a mold of my body at the Jim Henson Creature Shop! When the cat was being built getting the mold of my body took a long time, and the plaster heats up around your body so it gets really hot, but you couldn’t move or you would crack the plaster.

Q Why do you think they picked a Saber-Toothed Cat to represent Ice Age animals?

BZ She is the star of the Ice Age, the most ferocious creature and when you think of the Ice Age she is pretty iconic. Although kids refer to her as a Saber-Toothed Tiger there where in fact no actual Tigers back then, so one of our teaching points that we try to reiterate here at the Tar Pits is that she is a Saber-Toothed Cat.

Q Was it important to educate yourself about the science behind the subject?

BZ  It’s important when you are a performer at an institution like a natural history museum as you want to be able to answer the questions people have. So I got a list of what the basic questions might be like her scientific name Smilodon Fatalis, the fact that the saber teeth were eight inches long and how fossils are preserved, and made sure to study them. With the cats appearance, and since we have no idea if they were spotted or stripped, we do comparative anatomy with creatures that are similar phenotypes today and we make a best guess based on foliage of that time of what she may have looked like

Q Why do you think the Ice Age Encounters show is a good way to educate people on prehistoric animals?

BZ Whenever we do a show you can always tell there is an impact based on how the audience reacts with surprise when they see the cat for the first time and also when they hear scientific information that the host presents. I remember seeing a puppet show in elementary school as a child and can still recall that show, the puppet and the name of it. Art is a great way to teach and it lasts and, art forms that teach kids about science stick.

Quick facts about the puppet:

  • The person, puppeteer or Quadruped Performer, inside takes up about two-thirds of the cat. The final third, the neck and head, are the animatronics part which are operated by the Remote Control operator
  • Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created the cat but mechanical repairs are now done by the museum’s Technical Coordinator Eli Presser and, the pelt is maintained by Quadruped Performer Betsy Zajko
  • While it is called a ‘puppet’ it is a very technically sophisticated piece of engineering. The remote servos inside are military grade, the same type which operate drones
  • The man who designed the technical part of the puppet was recruited by the military, but he preferred making creatures
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Ice Age Encounters, Saber-toothed Cat, Smilodon, Smilodon fatalis, Cats In Art, Puppets, Performing Artists, Teaching Kids about prehistoric animals, Prehistoric Cats, Extinct animals, Fossils

Making friends with the star of show

A big thank you goes out to The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum for granting behind the scenes access at the Ice Age Encounters show; to puppeteer and Quadruped Performer Betsy Zajko for taking time to talk to me; and, Supervisor Brian Meredith for helping to arrange the interview.

As mentioned there is a whole team of performers that work to bring the Ice Age Encounters show to life, upfront and behind the scenes which is worth noting. Each member of the performing arts team listed here play different roles at both the Tar Pits and at the NHM.

  • Ilana Gustafson – Manager
  • Brian Meredith – Supervisor (T.rex performer)
  • Eli Presser – Technical Coordinator (T.rex performer)
  • Jamie Lozano – Remote Control Operator (T.rex performer)
  • Quadruped Performers – Betsy Zajko, Jonathan C. K. Williams, Brittaney Wyszynski, Lisa McNeely, Baxley Andresen, Shannon Fitzpatrick,Tara Spadaro, Mark Whitten, Jaquita Ta’le; (T.rex Performers) Robert George, Brett Horn, Carlos Jackson, Andrew Eldredge

Paw Prints From The Past

South America recently revealed a fossil that is the first ever documented paw prints made by the long extinct saber-toothed cat also known as Smilodon.

Saber tooth cat, Smilodon, Fossils, Argentina, South America, Prehistoric Cats, Big Cats, First saber toothed foot print fossils,

Paw prints from the past  – Image – Science – Daniel Boh/Museo Municipal de Miramar

The announcement was made by Paleontologists in Punta Hermengo, Argentina where they are calling the find a “small revelation”. Researchers said that the tracks were likely made by the largest of the three saber-toothed cats Smilodon populator whose paws were about 20 percent larger than that of a Bengal Tiger.

Smilodon Fatalis, Smilodon populator, Smilodon Gracilis,Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits,

Of the three species of Saber-tooth cat Smilodon populator is similar to but larger than the it’s well-known relative Smilodon fatalis, whose remains have been found at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles – Image Wikipedia

Approximately 50,000 years ago the big cat took a walk through the area and left behind impressions of both the front and hind paws which would end up being preserved in the “fine, grainy sediment”. The prints measure 17.6 centimeters (6.9 inches) in length and 19.1 centimeters (7.5) in width, with the front paw being the larger of the two.

Smilodon populator is thought to have lived only in South America during the Lujanian age, a geologic time period spanning the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, and while researchers have said that the paw prints do have very similar morphological features to that of its smaller relative Smilodon fatalis they can’t be 100 % sure which cat they belong to. Due to the difficulty in connecting fossil footprints to the actual animals that made them the tracks will get their own name, based on where they were found in the Miramar region of Punta Hermengo, and be called Smilodon miramensis.

When Prehistoric Cats Ruled North America

The recent discoveries of the two Cave Lion cubs in Siberia this past summer was truly a fascinating find. It has had me thinking a lot about my visit to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and, the long extinct prehistoric cats that roamed the world. In particular those cats from the recent past, that up until about 10,000 years ago called North America home.

One of my personal favorites and best know is Smilodon or Saber-tooth cat and, more than 2,000 individual fossils of these cats were unearthed at La Brea, along with a multitude of other prehistoric species. La Brea is still an active dig site so it won’t be too surprising if the number of Saber-tooth fossils goes up.

"La Brea Tar Pits" by Charles Robert Knight - The Jesse Earl Hyde Collection, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Department of Geological Sciences. - Wikipedia

“La Brea Tar Pits” by Charles Robert Knight – The Jesse Earl Hyde Collection, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Department of Geological Sciences. – Wikipedia

La Brea tends to be referenced as one of the best sources for information about the Pleistocene epoch, the time period that spanned from approximately 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, due to the concentrated and abundant finds of insect, plant and animal life. What is fascinating is that the animal and plant life of this geographical time period, or biota, is said to have been similar to modern ones, however the Pleistocene epoch differed in one big regard – megafauna, distinct and large species like the Saber-tooth cats and Mammoths. While the megafauna did not survive, it is important to note that some of the smaller mammals, like bobcats, coyotes and cougars, who shared this time period with Saber-tooth cats are still with us today.

Smilodon Fatalis, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Paige Museum, Travel, Los Angeles, California

Smilidon lived during the Pleistocene epoch which lasted up until about 11,700 years ago  – Page Museum – La Brea Tar Pits

Since there hasn’t been a ‘fully preserved’ fossil of Saber-tooth cat found, like we have seen with the Cave Lion cubs, we have to rely on artistic interpretation of what the species could have looked like when alive. Depictions of Smilodon vary and they are represented either with faint stripes or markings, rosettes, or a plain tawny colored coat similar to modern Lions.

Smilodon Fatalis, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Paige Mueseum, Travel,

Smilodon was about a foot shorter than today’s Lions, much heavier and had a bobtail – Artist reconstruction of Saber-toothed cat – Image Page Museum

The fossil evidence shows many of the cats had serious injuries that they ultimately recovered from. The healing of bones indicates they were social and lived in co-operative packs which allowed them time to heal, cats that were solitary and hunted alone would not have managed to survive as well. Researchers have also determined, from examining the structure of the hyoid bones in the throat, that Smilodon could roar. So while the prehistoric cat did share some traits with modern Lions, other anatomical characteristics suggest that it was also different. For one, its build is indicative of an ‘ambush’ predator who waited for its prey to come close before attacking, rather than chasing it down like modern Lions.

Smilodon Fatalis, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Paige Mueseum, Travel, Los Angeles, California

Leslie, a Volunteer with the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, holds a life size replica of a Smilodon skull.

The most distinctive feature, Smilodon’s almost 8.5 inch long teeth, were no doubt used for hunting although the jury is still out on how exactly they were utilized. The most widely accepted theory is that the teeth were used to rip or stab the soft belly or throat of the prey. Smilodon’s bite may be the stuff of legends, but research that compared its skull to that of modern Lions showed that their bite was much weaker than first thought. This was due to a smaller lower jaw, which evolved to accommodate the huge upper teeth.  In computerized crash tests it was revealed that Smilodon “could not bite a prey that was still on its feet and struggling: the sabers (canines) would have been broken and the cat’s skull would not hold up to the associated forces, while the (modern) Lion’s skull coped easily with this.”

Smilodon Fatalis, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Paige Mueseum, Travel,

Just how big was the bite of Smilodon? Here is a comparison….

While the bite of a Saber-tooth cat doesn’t stand up to the hype, I think it is still rather impressive and you can tell from the photo above just how impressed I really was. It’s not everyday that you get to put your head inside the mouth of Saber-tooth cat, but if you are visiting the Tar Pits Museum, they are more than happy to oblige. Of course if you would like a more real experience, fur and all, the museum offers something called Ice Age Encounters where you can get close up with a full size life like Saber-tooth cat that moves.

Smilodon, which is part of the Carnivora order that includes species like dogs, cats and bears, was one of many ‘Saber-tooth’ cats that have appeared throughout history and in several evolutionary lineages independently in different parts of the world. It was also one of the more recent Saber-tooth cats to go extinct about 10,000 years ago during the end of the Pleistocene, which was marked by a global ice age. The cats impressive assets, including its heavily muscled frame designed to take down large prey, may have added to its undoing becoming a hindrance when it came to catching quick and more agile animals. It has been suggested, as another reason for the species demise, that as the larger prey animals died out during the Ice Age Smilodon was unable to adapt to catch the smaller prey and soon headed down the path to extinction.

Smilodon Fatalis, Smilodon populator, Smilodon Gracilis,Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits,

Fossil records show that three species of Saber-tooth cats overlapped at the same time. Smilodon Fatalis, who was intermediate in size, is the one that is present at La Brea. Image – Wikipedia

The Saber-tooth cat is still probably the most famous of the prehistoric cats, but it’s good to remember he wasn’t alone. Another lesser known ‘Saber-tooth’ type cat, or Scimitar Cat, also called North America home up to the end of the Pleistocene. However, lesser known doesn’t mean less successful and the Scimitar Cat, or Homotherium Serum, enjoyed even wider distribution in North and South America, Eurasia and Africa.

About the size of a Lion, Homotherium was lighter in body had long forelimbs, a long neck, and relatively short, powerful hind limbs and large nasal openings. These physical characteristic indicate that, unlike Smilodon, it was fast, agile, probably chased its prey more, and could even climb trees. Another trait which differed from most cats, is it could see well during the day.  Homotherium had shorter upper canines, but they were flat, serrated and longer than those of any living cat – its incisors and lower canines were the perfect tool to both puncture and grip. Tigers (Panthera tigris) are the only living cat to have comparably large incisors, which aid in both lifting and carrying prey.

Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Page Mueseum, Homotherium Serum, Scimitar Cat,

Image – “Homotherium serum life-restoration” by Dantheman9758 at English Wikipedia.

In North America Homotherium serum existed up until the late Pleistocene and remains have been found at various sites between Alaska and Texas. In the southern parts of its range it co-existed with Smilodon while in the northern parts it was the only species of Saber-toothed cat.

When you start to examine how many different species of prehistoric cats lived it is easy to see how they are thought to be some of, if not the most, successful and perfect predators to ever exist. It is pretty amazing to think that up until the very recent past a multitude of fascinating prehistoric cats ruled North America.

  • Xenosmilus Hodsonae, another Saber-tooth cat with a highly muscular body, that is more muscular than any other cat alive or dead. Only two fossil specimens from the same location are known,‭ unfortunately this means it cannot be accurately determined, in the fossil record, when the cat first appeared and went extinct.
  • Pleistocene North American Jaguar (Panthera onca augusta) was much larger than Jaguars today. It came to North America from Asia during the Pleistocene via the Bering Land Bridge and their range included virtually all of North and South America except for the extensive open grasslands, deserts, and mountainous areas. After the last Pleistocene extinction event, Jaguars became extinct in the northern parts of their range until they were only left in the tropical forests of Central and South America.
  • Miracinonyx (American cheetah) is actually thought to have been descended from Cougar-like ancestors.‭ Miracinonyx inexpectatus was built more like a cougar,‭ ‬but more graceful and faster while still retaining some of the strength of a Cougar.‭ ‬It also had fully retractable claws which likely aided it in climbing. Miracinonyx Trumani had an even lighter build and was most similar to the modern Cheetah with only partly retractable claws that could be used to gain more traction on the ground while running.

Last but certainly not least is a cat that has caused a wee bit of prehistoric controversy among Paleontologists ever since it was first dug up – the American Lion (Panthera atrox). This American Lion is not to be mistaken with today’s Mountain Lions, which are quite often referred to as ‘America’s Lion’.

On one side research states that Panthera atrox is descended from an earlier form of Jaguar around 150,000 years ago. Studies using the skull of the cat reference that “Panthera atrox shared more in common with Jaguars than Lions or other big cats.” However, there is also support for the idea that Panthera atrox occupied an “intermediate place between a subgroup of Lions/Leopards on the one hand and, Tigers/Jaguars on the other.” So it wasn’t a type of giant North American Lion, but perhaps close a type of giant Jaguar. Confused yet?

Smilodon Fatalis, Smilodon populator, Smilodon Gracilis,Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits,

Reconstruction of an American Lion (Panthera atrox) Image – Wikipedia

Then there is the consensus that Panthera atrox is a Lion. In a study done by zoologist Ross Barnett and colleagues they reported that Panthera atrox “formed a distinct genetic cluster among prehistoric Lion populations which became genetically isolated around 340,000 years ago.” They also made a point to highlight that samples taken showed a strong correlation “with modern Lion data” that would rule out any connection between Jaguars and Panthera atrox.

Truth in labeling? Adding to the confusion, the plaque at the Tar Pits Museum labels Panthera atrox as Naegele’s Giant Jaguar.

Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Page Mueseum, Travel,

More than 80 fossils of Panthera atrox have been found at La Brea, and only a few of Panthera onca (North American Jaguar) have been discovered.  Image – Left American Lion (Panthera atrox) and right Saber-tooth cat (Smilodon).

The American Lion is thought to have descend from the Cave Lion who possibly entered Alaska from Siberia during the second-last glaciation period, then as the ice from the last glaciation period spread (about 80,000 to 10,000 years ago) they eventually became isolated.  Fossils have been found in the Yukon as well as in Edmonton, Bindloss and Medicine Hat in Alberta.

Panthera Atrox, American Lion, Giant Jaguar,Smilodon, California fossils, Prehistoric big cats, extinct cats, Saber-tooth Cat, Saber-tooth Tiger, Fossils, science, Pleistocene, La brea tar pits, Page Mueseum, Travel,

American Lion or Giant Jaguar, or somewhere in between? Either way he towered over Smilodon Fatalis.

While researchers may not fully agree on how to classify this prehistoric cat, they do know that Panther atrox did not fully behave, based on fossil evidence, like modern Lions. Standing beside the exhibit the argument seems to become irrelevant when you see just how big the cat was. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like when alive and what an impressive, surreal and frightening sight it would have been. Personally I am leaning towards Lion, although it is fun to think Jaguars were once this big.

Will the original American Lion give up its secrets? Who knows, but their fossils continue to be discovered as recently seen in an ancient sinkhole in Wyoming. where researchers are hoping to find fossils as far back as 100,000 years. The site which had gone unexplored in over 30 years, is looking to be another hot spot full of small and large Ice Age-era prehistoric mammals such as the American Lion and American Cheetah. The sinkhole is believed to have opened up 25,000 years ago, and much like La Brea, it acted as a trap luring many unsuspecting creatures to their fate. Perhaps these new finds will also help shed some light on the mystery of America’s great prehistoric Lion once and for all, either that or just give us something else to ponder.

Prehistoric Cats – Smilodon

There are many cool prehistoric big cats, but if I had to narrow it down I would say  Smilodon aka Saber-tooth Cat has to top my list, sometimes called Saber-Tooth Tiger even though they aren’t related to modern Tigers, they are also known as the deadliest cat of all time and three species lived in North and South America:

  • Smallest, Smilodon gracilis, was about the size of a modern-day Jaguar
  • Smilodon fatalis was as big as a lion
  • Smilodon populator which reached up to 500 kgs (1102lbs) when fully grown

Prehistoric, extinct Big cats, Sabre-tooth tiger, sabre-tooth catSmilodon was the largest of the saber-toothed cats and among the largest mammalian carnivores to ever prowl the Earth.”

What did this big cat like? They liked Trees, open spaces, slow-moving prey and the art of ambush! They are thought to have lived very much like African Lions in prides even taking care of injured group members and perhaps using cooperative hunting methods.

My, what big teeth you have! 8.5 inches to be exact. Sadly bigger may not have been better as the large but brittle teeth were prone to breaking and this meant they couldn’t bite into bone. This made Smilodon a wasteful eater as they had to stick to the “soft” parts.

Prehistoric cat, Sabre-Tooth Cat, Tiger, ExtinctThe most famous Smilodon fossils are the ones preserved in California at the La Brea tar-pits which was a magnet back in the day attracting hapless prey who got stuck, which in turn attracted the big cats for an easy meal, who also got stuck. The large number of Smilodon fossils at the tar-pit made it easier for scientist to figure out a lot about their lives.

Smilodon was very successful at being a top predator so it is not really known why it went extinct, but the arrival of humans about 13,000 years ago and with that “the sudden extinction of large herbivores” (prey) could account for its demise.

What Smilodon lacked in agility it made up for with strength and power going so far as to take out its competition in South America by driving its less adaptable competitors to extinction. If this cat was playing prehistoric survivor it would have got my vote for the fan favorite.