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Dotted skulls suggest that saber-toothed cats have fought among themselves



The Fang of a saber-toothed cat fits perfectly in the stab wound of a saber-toothed cat.
Image: Nicolas R. Chimento

An analysis of two pierced saber-toothed skulls indicates that these extinct creatures are engaged in combat between different species. This is further evidence that the exaggerated fangs of saber-toothed cats were strong enough to penetrate the bone.

Saber-toothed cats disappeared about 1

1,000 years ago, but these fearsome predators dominated the Pleistocene landscape for millions of years. The purpose of their iconic fangs, however, is the subject of a long-standing debate, with some scientists arguing that the fangs – which were up to 28 inches long – were too fragile and the saber tooth bite weak to attack prey. According to this theory, the fangs were only used when a saber-toothed cat had brought their prey with their huge front legs on the ground. At this point, the elongated upper canines were used to pierce the soft, vulnerable neck.

] New research published in the scientific journal Comptes Rendus Palevol now presents this scenario with a serious challenge. A pair of saber-toothed skulls, both belonging to the species Smilodon Populator had puncture sites consistent with a bite added by a member of the same species. The finding suggests that saber teeth were indeed strong enough to penetrate the bones, and at the same time shed new light on their social behavior, that saber-toothed cats fought among themselves. The authors of the new study, led by Nicolás Chimentoa and Federico Agnolin of the Argentinian Museum of Natural History, assume that the old cats fight in-house like modern cats do.

Analysis of the two punctures (one after the other) Each skull showed a clearly elliptical shape. Each hole was between the eyes in the upper nasal area and was slightly sunken, indicating that pressure was applied to the skulls. One of the specimens showed signs of healing, which meant that the individual survived long after the injury.

"The size and general contours of the lesions in [the] specimens … are consistent with the size and contours observed in the upper canines of Smilodon ," wrote the authors. "In fact, when a blade-like upper canine of a Smilodon specimen is inserted through the described aperture, both perfectly match in size and shape."

Based on the shape of the holes, the authors said it was unlikely – but not impossible – that the punctures were caused by the kicking of a hoofed animal with two to four toes. Nor did the holes match the shape of the teeth of other predators such as bears – an animal that would have caused a noticeably rounded sting wound. The researchers also said that it is unlikely that the punctures were caused by a large, claw-like ground sloth, as its claws "should have resulted in quite different injuries than reported here," the authors wrote. The "shape and general characteristics of the injuries suggest that they were caused by the upper cuspids of another Smilodon individual during [antagonistic] interactions," the authors concluded.

Similar injuries are common in live cats, including leopards, cougars, cheetahs and panthers. Such injuries, according to the authors, are often the result of violent encounters between men and sometimes women and often lead to the death of one of the participants. The new study suggests that saber-toothed cats have done the same, but that remains a speculation.

It's pretty amazing what can be taken from a few holes. This evidence suggests that saber-toothed cats may have used their bony-penetrating fangs to hunt prey. And indeed, this is not a completely wild assertion; Earlier fossil evidence has already indicated that saber-toothed cats hunted the giant armadillo-type glyptodonts in this manner.

We've always known saber-toothed cats are intimidating, but this paper – along with the eye-catching skull image above – suddenly makes them seem a lot more formidable.


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