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Close-up view of the head of Smilodon on display at the American Museum of Natural History.

Saber-toothed cat[1] refers to extinct subfamilies of Machairodontinae (Felidae), Barbourofelidae (Feliformia), and Nimravidae (Feliformia) as well as two marsupial families that were found worldwide from the Eocene-Pleistocene epochs (42 mya—11,000 years ago), existing for approximately 42 million years.[2][3][4]

The Nimravidae are the oldest entering the landscape around 42 mya and becoming extinct by 7.2 mya. Barbourofelidae entered around 16.9 mya and were extinct by 9 mya. These two would have shared some habitats.

Contents

Morphology

These subfamilies evolved their sabre-toothed characteristics entirely independently. They are most known for having maxillary canines which were, in some species, up to 50 cm long and extended down from the mouth even when the mouth was closed. Sabre-toothed cats were generally more robust than today's cats and were quite bear-like in build. They were believed to be excellent hunters and hunted animals such as sloths, mammoths, and other large prey. Evidence from the numbers found at the La Brea Tar Pits suggests that Smilodon, like modern lions, was a social carnivore.[5]

Saber-tooth genera

Genus Name Species Appeared
(Ma BP)
Died out
(Ma BP)
Regions Canine Size
Smilodon 6 2.5 0.01 North & South America 17-20cm
Hoplophoneus 5 33.7 23.8 North & South America
Eusmilus 3 30.5 28 Europe, North & South America
Dinictis 4 40 25 North America
Dinaelurus 1  ?  ? North America
Dinailurictis 1  ?  ?  ?
Eofelis 1  ?  ?  ?
Nimravidus (Nimravides) 2  ?  ?  ?
Nimravus (Nimravinus) 6 33.5 20 Europe, North America
Nimraviscus 1  ?  ?  ?
Pogonodon 2 15 6 Europe, North America
Quercylurus 1  ?  ?  ?
Archaelurus 1  ?  ?  ?
Aelurogale (Ailurictis) 1  ?  ?  ?
Ictidailurus 1  ?  ?  ?
Albanosmilus 3 18 3 Africa, Eurasia
Afrosmilus 1 25 10 Africa
Barbourofelis 7 15 3 Africa, Eurasia
Ginsburgsmilus 1 23 10 Africa
Prosansanosmilus 2 18 5 Africa, Eurasia
Sansanosmilus 3 12 3 Africa, Eurasia
Syrtosmilus 1 23 8 Africa
Vampyrictis 1 15 3 Africa, Eurasia
Vishnusmilus 1  ?  ?  ?
Homotherium 10 3 0.01 Africa, Eurasia, North & South America
Miracinonyx 2 3.2 0.01 North America
Thylacosmilus (marsupial) 2 10 1.8 South America over 30 cm
Metailurus 9 15 8 Eurasia
Adelphailurus 1 23 5 North America (Kansas)
Paramachairodus 3 20–15 9 Europe
Machairodus (Ancestral to Homotherium) 18 15 2 Africa, Eurasia, North America
Miomachairodus 1 13.65 5.33 Europe, Asia, Africa, North America
Hemimachairodus 1 Pleistocene Pleistocene Java
Lokontailurus 1 late Miocene late Miocene Africa
Megantereon 8 3 0.5 Africa, Eurasia, North America
Dinofelis 6 5 1.5 Africa, Eurasia, North America
Therailurus 1 5 2 Africa, Eurasia, North America
Pontosmilus 4 20 9 Eurasia
Proailurus 2 30 20 Europe, North America
Pseudaelurus 1 20 10 Europe, North America
Xenosmilus (1 specimen) 1 1.7 1 North America (Florida)
Stenailurus 1  ?  ?  ?
Dinobastis 1  ?  ? Asia
Epimachairodus 1  ?  ?  ?
Hemimachairodus 1  ?  ?  ?
Ischyrosmilus 1  ?  ?  ?

Saber-tooth evolutionary tree

All saber-tooth mammals lived between 33.7 million and 9,000 years ago, but the evolutionary lines that led to the various saber-tooth genera started to diverge much earlier. It is thus a polyphyletic grouping.

The lineage that led to Thylacosmilus was the first to split off, in the late Cretaceous. It is a marsupial, and thus more closely related to kangaroos and opossums than the felines. The creodonts diverged next, and then the nimravids, before the blossoming of the truly feline saber-tooths.

Literature

  • D. Mol / W. v. Logchem / K. v. Hooijdonk / R. Bakker: The Saber-Toothed Cat, DrukWare, Norg 2008, ISBN 978-90-78707-04-2

References

  1. ^ Also often spelled "sabre." See for example "sabre-toothed cat." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Oct. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/515146/sabre-toothed-cat>.
  2. ^ PaleoBiology Database: Smilodon, basic info
  3. ^ PaleoBiology Database: Nimravidae, basic info
  4. ^ PaleoBiology Database: Barbourofelidae, basic info
  5. ^ Carbone C, Maddox T, Funston PJ, Mills MG, Grether GF, Van Valkenburgh B. (2009). Parallels between playbacks and Pleistocene tar seeps suggest sociality in an extinct sabretooth cat, Smilodon. Biol Lett. 23;5(1):81-5. PMID 18957359

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