Just a quick bite

Saber-toothed cats living in North America up to 10,000 years ago relied on a strong pounce and a swift bite to kill their prey. Smilodon fatalis, often erroneously called tigers, didn’t have jaws strong enough to suffocate their victims as modern big cats do. Instead, says Colin McHenry of the University of Newcastle in Callaghan, Australia, saber-toothed cats probably tackled prey and used their prominent canine teeth to pierce a victim’s airway.

J. Conway

McHenry’s team used computed tomography to probe densities within saber-toothed cat skulls. As they report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers then created a model of the jaw and surrounding muscles, which they compared with those of a modern lion. White and red areas in the model show where the saber-toothed cat’s jaw could sustain the most force. Blue and green areas are weaker.

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