What is a Saber Tooth Tiger?

6 min read

What is a Saber Tooth Tiger

Do you want to know What is a Saber Tooth Tiger? The saber-toothed tiger is an extinct species of feline, characterized by its long curved canines. They go by many names such as "saber-toothed cats," "saber-toothed tigers," or simply its scientific name, the "Smilodon." Today we will discover more about these majestic prehistoric animals.

Among other feline breeds with similar large canines, the Smilodon had the lengthiest teeth. There are three known species;

  • The Fatalis, the best known. Most of the time, this is the one you see everywhere.
  • The Gracilis, the smallest of the three, is 1.5 meters long and 1 meter high. Small but fierce.
  • The Populator is the biggest Smilodon among these three monsters. It remains much smaller than our current tigers.


What is a Saber Tooth Tiger: sizes of tiger

Despite their name containing the word "Tiger," these mammals were not at all related to the tiger we know today. Many thought the opposite. This justifies the article that we do to learn more about these species.

1) Description of the saber-toothed tiger

These creatures lived simultaneously as the imposing woolly mammoth (the ancestor of the elephant, just in case.). However, unlike mammoths, specialists have not found well-preserved saber-toothed tiger specimens. Although we can't say precisely what these cats looked like when they were alive, their skeletons give us some clues.

The first and foremost characteristic must be their long curved teeth. Surprisingly, these long teeth were quite fragile. They were only used to deliver the deadly bite to finish off their prey. Some paleontologists believe they were used to grab and hold onto prey. However, attacking a large herbivore in this way could easily break their long teeth. But saber teeth that were damaged during an animal's life are rare in bone deposits. We, therefore, lean more towards the first theory.

As for the rest of the body, it was also incredible. He had long forelimbs and a robust build to help him take down his prey.

What is a Saber Tooth Tiger skeletal of a saber tooth tiger

2) Interesting facts about the saber-tooth tiger

Despite the notoriety of this big cat, people have many misconceptions about it. Here are some interesting facts about these prehistoric cats!

A. The predator of a prehistoric person

While we humans were hunting mastodons, another beast was also hunting us. Saber-toothed cats likely killed our prehistoric ancestors. The skull of a one-million-year-old specimen had two gaps in it, which happened to match the teeth of a saber-toothed tiger.

Are you interested in Smilodons? You might want to take a look at our beautiful Saber-Tooth Tiger Figurine.

B. Cat competition

These beasts were far from the top of the food chain. In most places, saber-toothed tigers competed with many other cat species. Some predators that competed with the Smilodon for food were the American lion, mountain lions, lynx, and Miracinonyx (or American Cheetah).

What is a Saber Tooth Tiger black and white photo of 2 saber tooth tigers

C. Large Jaws.

One of the most impressive features of the Smilodon is its pair of massive canines. While these molars are impressive, another feature makes them even more frightening. These beasts can open their mouths up to 120º; for comparison, lions can only open their jaws up to a maximum of 60º!

D. But less impressive

Unlike lions, these cats can't exert as much pressure when they bite. Scientists made a digital reconstruction of a skull to test how hard the saber-toothed tiger could bite. This study showed us that these felines have only a third of the biting strength of modern lions. Furthermore, they were also slightly smaller than the average lion (about 30-40cm difference). However, they were twice as heavy.

saber tooth tiger

3) Saber-toothed tiger habitat

These felines were widespread and used many different types of habitats for their survival. Scientists believe that saber-toothed cats lived everywhere from savannahs to steppes, subtropical forests, woods, plains, mountains, etc. These species had different habitat preferences. Some were more common and influential than others.

A. Distribution of the saber-toothed tiger

Smilodon was found in North, Central, and South America in various species. None of the three species have been found higher than the temperate regions of North America, according to researchers. Gracilis and Fatalis both inhabited North, Central, and South America. The Populator lived only in South America. Some of these species must have lived in Europe because fossils have also been found in this area. It is not known if they lived on other continents.

hand of a tiger

4) The diet of the saber-toothed tiger

Although they were not at the top of the food chain, these animals were not choirboys. Large hoofed mammals were their primary prey. To figure out what these cats ate, scientists mainly use two approaches. The Smilodon's hunting method was similar to that of the tiger today (ambush, sneak attack.).

First, they observed the fossils of the prey species and matched the bites of the cats. Then, they studied the isotopes preserved in the cats' bones and teeth to determine their diet. Using these methods, some of the prey that came from various places in the Americas were ancient and massive bison, prehistoric camels, peccaries, glyptodonts (a prehistoric armadillo-like animal), etc.

5) The saber-toothed tiger Vs. Human

As said before, these beasts probably killed and possibly ate humans. The presence of large predators and prey probably led to increased socialization in early humans and most likely shaped the daily lifestyle of humans.

saber tooth tiger vs. human

A. Domestication

These cats were never domesticated in any way by humans.

B. Would this tiger make a good pet?

Would the saber-toothed tiger make a good pet? Even if it were still alive today, it would not be advisable to own one as a pet, just as it would not be good to have a tiger as a pet today. All three species were dangerous big cats. They were more than capable of delivering a deadly bite. Domesticated cats are still the safest thing around!

C. Care of the saber-toothed tiger

In a zoo environment, these cats would probably need similar care to other cats of their size. The smallest of the three was about the size of a jaguar, and the largest was about the size of a lion.

It's essential to choose a well-secured enclosure with plenty of room for exercise and climbing. Like all large cats, they would also need various environmental enrichments. Finally, their diet would most likely be similar to lions, tigers, and other big cats.

By the way, the widespread problem of poor tiger captivity is well explained in our blog post on Tiger Temple in Thailand.

6) Saber-toothed tiger behavior

The social nature of these cats is a hot topic of discussion. According to some hypotheses, these cats lived in packs. Since researchers found them in large numbers in the La Brea tar pits in the heart of Los Angeles, hunting calls of potential prey likely attracted them to the area.

Prey areas attract modern-day predators that hunt in groups. Finally, archaeologists have found fossils of several individuals near each other. This also suggests that they may have lived in groups.

saber tooth tiger in a forest

7) Smilodon reproduction

Fossils still provide many mysteries to scientists. One of them is unquestionably the precise methods of reproduction. The social nature of these cats is a hot topic of discussion. According to some hypotheses, these cats lived in packs.

The young fawns' adult-sized canines did not appear until they were three years old. This indicates that they depended heavily on their parents to feed and protect them when their teeth were growing and fragile. Smilodon, unlike the tiger, lived in groups rather than alone, according to the researchers.

8) In Conclusion

As you have seen in this article, the current tiger and the saber-toothed tiger species were quite different. They have some points in common, like their names or their ways of hunting, but globally it stops there. Their way of life, their size, their physical characteristics, and especially their coat were quite different. Not a single stripe for the Smilodon. It is a common ancestor that it has with all the other felids of today. We hope we could give you all the information needed to understand What is a Saber Tooth Tiger.

Did you like this article? Don't hesitate to have a look at our other blog articles or our Tiger Figurines collection.



Also in Tiger Blog

how intelligent are the tigers
How intelligent are the tigers?

2 min read

Of all the big cats, the tiger is by far the most intelligent. You see, its brain size exceeds that of the lion by at least 16% (about 300 grams)
best tiger sanctuaries in usa banner
What are the Best Tiger Sanctuaries in the U.S ?

4 min read

Several states in the U.S. allow the private possession of tigers and other big cats. This led to tigers being kept as personal pets, exhibited in zoos, exploited in circuses, and more. 
How Tiger Attack?
How does a Tiger Attack its Prey?

9 min read

Tiger attacks are a testimony to the current conflict between Man and wildlife. Because we want to feel all-powerful, nature has no choice but to calm our ardor most brutally.