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Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis)

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.

Social Behavior

  • Evidence for sociality somewhat contradictory
    • Smilodonwas social and had cooperative hunting
      • Because they often were injured and managed to heal, presumably other members of the group shared food with them (Shaw 2001)
      • Because like modern social carnivores, they were attracted in great numbers to the distress of trapped prey at La Brea asphalt pools; presumed solitary species of carnivores were much less common at La Brea. (Carbone et al 2008)
    • Smilodon was not social; no cooperative hunting
      • Because Smilodon's brain was relatively small (social mammals with cooperative feeding have large brains) (McCall et all 2003)
      • Social behavior not necessary to survive while healing; cats can heal quickly without feeding, drawing on stored metabolic reserves (McCall et al 2003)

Interspecies Interactions

  • Smilodon was a top predator in its ecosystem
  • Prey availability for Smilodon' was equal to or greater than in East Africa today (Van Valkenburgh & Hertel 1993)
  • As the Pleistocene ended Smilodon and other top carnivores often had broken teeth; possibly this indicates intense competition for food and feeding all the way to bone. (Van Valkenburgh & Hertel 1993)
  • Since Smilodon did not feed on bones (no bone-crushing teeth), it may have associated with scavenging, bone crushing hyaenas (Van Valkenburgh et al 1990)

Page Citations

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

SDZWA Library Links