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Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

Extinct Saber-toothed Cat (Smilodon fatalis)

How Do We Know This?

Scientists use knowledge of the earth's rocks, global plate movements, and the chemical process of fossilization to make sense of fossil distribution patterns and ancient habitats.



  • Smilodon fossils found in North America, Central America, and South America. (Berta 1985)
  • Andes mountains separated populations of Smilodon gracilis from S. populator
  • Over 1,200 specimens of Smilodon fatalis from Rancho La Brea asphalt deposits, Los Angeles, California
  • Large collection of Smilodon fossils also discovered at Talara tar seeps in Peru (Anderson 1984)


  • Most fossils found in sediments from plains or woodland environments
  • Smilodon sp. found in cave deposits in Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee (Brown 1908) (Guilday 1977) (Kitts 1958) (Oesch 1969) (Parmalee et al. 1978) (Yongsteadt 1980)
    • It is unclear what role caves played in the lives of Smilodon
  • Smilodon's anatomy suggests its preferred forested habitat, though fossil remains are primarily from plains and woodland habitat (Shaw 2001) (Cox and Shaw 2006)
  • A robust skeleton, with exceptionally powerful limbs indicates an ambush predator
  • Ambush predators depend on forest habitats, brushy plains, margins of woodlands

Page Citations

Berta (1985)
Brown (1908)
Guilday (1977)
Kitts (1958)
Oesch (1969)
Parmalee et al. (1978)
Shaw (2001)
Shaw & Cox (2006)
Turner (1997)
Yongsteadt (1980)

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