Science News

Saber-Tooth Tiger’s Deadly Canines Grew In Kittens, Study Finds

A new study reveals that Smilodon fatalis, better known as the saber-tooth tiger, grew their deadly canine fangs at the tender age of three. These long canines replaced a smaller set of teeth in the kittens, according to a new study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Using X-ray imaging and an analysis of oxygen isotopes in the tooth enamel, researchers were able to determine that the saber-tooth tiger’s canines grew at twice the rate of today’s African lions, reports Reuters.

According to a report on Vox, the Smilodon’s permanent canines grew 6 millimeters per month. The kittens first set of teeth stopped growing when the cubs were around one and a half years old. When the permanent teeth began to come in, there was a period of time – nearly a year – where both sets of teeth were visible inside the cub’s mouth. The jaw muscles were “anatomically ready” for hunting long before their knife like adult canines came in.

Smilodon was believe to have used these serrated and curved canines, reaching nearly 7 inches, to bite the neck of their prey, severing crucial arteries for a quick kill.

The new techniques used to study the teeth of the saber-tooth will help scientists learn more about other extinct species. Robert Feranec, paleontologist of the New York State Museum and corresponding author on the research, believes that “this technique will permit the determination of absolute developmental age not only for Smilodon, but other extinct species.”

Timing of development is crucial for many aspects of vertebrate ecology and evolution. Changes in the timing of life-history events can have major effects on an organism’s adult features and final appearance. For extinct species, we can usually only determine the relative sequence of developmental events. This technique will permit the determination of absolute developmental age not only for Smilodon, but other extinct species.

The saber-tooth went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Remains of the great cat were discovered in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, lending credence to scientists’ belief that the Smilodon roamed North and South America during the Ice Age.

Saber-tooth tigers were around the same size as today’s tigers and lions, but more powerfully built. Z. Jack Tseng, paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, refers to the saber-tooth as, “basically a lion on steroids with knives coming out of its mouth.”

In other unrelated news, a new study has found that the sixth mass extinction is underway, and could spell the end for the human race.

Click to comment
To Top

Hi - We Would Love To Keep In Touch

If you liked this article then please consider joing our mailing list to receive the latest news, updates and opportunities from our team.

We don't want an impostor using your email address so please look for an email from us and click the link to confirm your email address.