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.

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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.

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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.

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.