Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sabretoothed Kittehs R Teh Kewlesht

I think the perfect way to start off this blog is with a little bit of information regarding the coolest prehistoric creatures (IMO), the sabretoothed cats. Fist off, I would like to say that they were not tigers. Sabretoothed cats were about as distantly related to tigers as a cat can get, so if I catch anyone saying tiger when referring to any kind of sabretooth I will smack them.
First off, let’s take a look at what makes these kitties famous: their badass fangs! Most, if not all known sabretoothed cats had upper canines that protruded out from the lips. However, these fangs were actually very delicate and would break if they hit bone. This means that the cat had to bite in a soft spot in order to do any damage. There had been suggestions that the cat would have bitten into the belly and let the prey bleed out (kinda like a great white shark) but this hasn’t really been a well accepted theory. Most scientists believe that the sabretooths would have bitten into the neck, severing the jugular allowing for a quick death. It is also important to mention these teeth were not used to randomly stab the victim in the neck like a psycho murderer. The cat would carefully place its bite using its whiskers to help guide it then
So sabretoothed cats first appeared about 23 million years ago and went extinct at about 10’000 years ago. All of these species were within the same subfamily in the cat family. However, the sabretoothed cats can be split again in to three more groups which I usually call the scimitar cats, the dirk cats and the false-saber cats. The first group I want to talk about is the false sabretooths. This is probably the least known of the group includes animals like Dinofelis and Metailurus which looked a lot like modern jaguars mostly because they were short legged and stocky and they also had rather small teeth compared to other sabretooths. In fact, their teeth were barely even sabers. They were only slightly flattened and were kind of in the middle of being conical and blade-like. Thus I (and most people who use laymen’s terms for them) call them false sabretooths cats. Although they did not have incredibly long teeth like other sabretooths they were pretty incredible on their own.
Dinofelis is particularly interesting because it has been found alongside the bones of its possible prey. In South Africa Dinofelis bones have been found alongside those of baboons. Now, an interesting fact is that baboons are badasses. They are known to kill predators like cheetahs, usually by mobbing it and then biting and smacking it until it dies. Kind of scary. This means Dinofelis likely had its hands full when dealing with these psycho monkeys. To make matters worse, there were also several species of giant baboon at this time, including an herbivorous species the size of a gorilla and an aggressive man sized one. But Dinofelis could hold its own thanks to its massively built shoulders and arms which it would have used to combat those rambunctious primates. Other species Dinofelis shared its habitat with some 4 million years ago were freaky backward tusked elephants and our earliest ancestors.
The second group of sabretooths is usually called scimitar cats. I don’t really see why they are called this considering a scimitar is typically a really huge curved sword and scimitar cats typically have rather small teeth when compared to the dirk cats, but whatever. These kitties are some of the oldest of the sabretooths and also among the last. The earliest members of the family hardly looked different from the classic cat except they had slightly larger than average canines. However by the end of their time on earth the scimitar cats had become highly specialized, with two species existing; one called Xenosmilus (of Florida) and another, Homotherium (of pretty much everywhere but Australia and South America).
Xenosmilus was a stocky cat that probably looked somewhat bear-like thanks to its short build. It also had some of the ugliest teeth ever seen on any cat. Xenosmilus is known from relatively scarce remains, but it is known that it likely preyed on peccaries (a type of pig-like animal) which have been found in the same area. Peccaries are rather aggressive animals, so Xenosmilus likely evolved its stocky limbs to tackle these piggy’s to the ground then bite through their neck.
Homotherium (yes, it’s name has homo in it…grow up) was pretty much the opposite of Xenosmilus, with long limbs, a short tail and a sloping back that made it look somewhat like a hyena. Other than Smilodon (a dirk cat), Homotherium is the best known sabretooth; it is known from hundreds of fossils from Africa to Mexico. The best known species was Homotherium serum from North America. A cave in Texas is thought to have been a lair of this species and even has the bones of there last meals: young mammoths. The biggest mystery is how the hell the bones got there. Homotherium’s teeth were too delicate to drag the carcasses or bones in to the cave, so the only other possibilities are that wolves dragged them there are the Homotherium stole their food, or the mammoths went into the cave and then were killed by the scimitar cats.
The last group was the dirk cats, which are pretty much your classic sabretoooths; big shoulders, short tail and huge teeth. The most famous of these guys (and my personal favourite extinct animal) was Smilodon, the largest of all sabertoothed cats. There were three different species of Smilodon, ranging from Alberta to Argentina. Two of the species are particularly well known, Smilodon fatalis of western North America and Smilodon populator of south-eastern South America. Smilodon fatalis is probably the best known fossil cat in the world, with literally thousands of specimens collected from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits of California. It was a pretty big kitty, weighing in at close to 280 kg (620 lbs) and had massively powerful forelimbs. Also, it is thought that this species was likely a social hunter, although there is no conclusive proof.
If you thought Smilodon fatalis was big, just look at Smilodon populator. Even its name is badass: “the devastating knife tooth”. At 500 kg (800 lbs) Smilodon populator was one of the largest cats ever to live, only exceeded by the American lion (Panthera atrox). In order to imagine this monster you basically have to take a lion, shorten its tail, turns its canines into samurai swords and give it steroids. I mean, this thing was an effing tank! Picture Brock Lesnar mixed with a tiger. That is what Smilodon populator looked like. And this guy had to be. In South America during the Ice Age the prey was crazy. Some of the most common animals were giant ground sloths, and they sure as hell would need one badass cat to take them down, and Smilodon populator was well equipped. Even then, in was no match the ultimate enemy: extinction. At the end of the Ice Age, Smilodon and all the other sabretoothed cats went extinct. It is not known for sure what wiped them out, seeing as most theories have one thing or another wrong with them. I personally do not dwell on what wiped them out, but I certainly like to imagine what they would have looked like.

And so that is my first real blog…feel free to comment, and by that I mean COMMENT DAMN IT! Oh, and BTW, I tried to add some more pictures but my computer is being stupid so...yeah.

1 comment:

  1. theres some interesting stuff on here, but do to our bus conversations i actually remember the first half of this piece. apparently in i retained stuff when we both thought i would not