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Saber-toothed cats strong-armed prey

Forelimbs were especially thick for their length

A saber-toothed cat’s pounce may have been as bad as its bite. These extinct animals had exceptionally strong forelimbs that probably held a victim still while razorlike teeth ripped out its throat, a new study shows.

Most carnivorous cats suffocate their victims with a long, crushing bite to the throat or nose. This wouldn’t have worked for sabertooths because their formidable twin canines were surprisingly fragile. The teeth were oval-shaped when cross-sectioned – like blades are – rather than round like other cats’. That made saber-shaped teeth good for slicing through flesh, but easily snapped by writhing prey.

Now paleontologists have an explanation for how one saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, avoided breaking those delicate pearly whites. A fossil analysis shows that the animal’s humerus, the bone between the shoulder and elbow, was stronger than in any other cat, living or extinct.

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