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Finally back for some discussion of saber-tooth cats, nimravids, and barbourofelids. There are two complementary articles that appeared almost simultaneously regarding the shape of the saber-tooth skull. Skull shape was examined by mapping various landmarks on different species’ skulls and measuring the change in position of these landmarks compared to average values.
ORIGINALLY PEOPLE thought that the long canines of saber-toothed cats were intended to pierce the thick skin of mammoths and were used to inflict gaping wounds. However, recent modeling suggests that repeated biting of struggling prey would result in breaking the saber-cats’ teeth, and that the fangs were used in a single neck bite on pinned prey, severing major blood vessels and quickly resulting in death.1 As the other two major groups of saber-tooth carnivores, Nimravidae and Barbourofelidae, have been extinct for millions of years, we will probably have to determine their diet based upon deduction. Fortunately the saber-toothed felids have been extinct for only tens of thousands of years, which is practically yesterday! We have some evidence of their diet in a cave that served as den for Homotherium and in the bones of Smilodon preserved in the La Brea tar pits.