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Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis)

How Do We Know This?

Clues to fossil mammals' diets come from not only teeth, but also
skull shape, amount of space indicated by bones for a stomach and guts, from fossil dung and gut
contents, from lab analysis of oxygen isotopes in bone and teeth, and by looking at diets of
similar modern animals.

Diet & Feeding

  • Size of Smilodon teeth and robustness of skeleton indicates prey would have included large mammals such as bison, giant ground sloths, possibly young mammoths and mastodonts, horses, camels
  • Oxygen isotopes preserved in tooth enamel show that S. gracilis in Florida ate browsing animals such as large pig-like Platygonus and large-headed llamas, Hemiauchenia. (Feranec 2002)
  • Smilodonprobably avoided eating bone or contacting it with its teeth
    • Microscopic study of tooth wear finds few grooves and pits in teeth indicating a diet of flesh (Annyonge 1996) (Van Valkenburgh et al 1990)
  • Smilodon did not break its knife-like canines any more than it broke its other teeth
    • Probably didn't use canines to help restrain prey, in contrast to modern lions (Van Valkenburgh and Hertel 1993)

Page Citations

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

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