Saber-toothed cat fossils found near Las Vegas

Dec 16, 2012

Researchers say a pair of fossils unearthed in the hills north of Las Vegas belonged to a saber-toothed cat.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports a team from California's San Bernardino County Museum identified the fossils dug up in June as being front from the extinct predator.

Kathleen Springer, the museum's senior curator, says the saber-tooth fossils are thought to be approximately 15,590 years old.

The discovery marks the first of its kind in the -rich Upper Las Vegas Wash. Springer heads a team that's been studying the wash for a decade and been collecting fossils there under a contract with the U.S. since 2008.

She says the bones of Las Vegas' only known saber-toothed cat are still being studied. There are no immediate plans to display them, but Springer expects that to happen eventually.

See also: Researchers Find First Evidence of Ice Age Wolves in Nevada

Explore further: Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

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Lurker2358
1 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2012
The prevailing theory is that the cats used their saber teeth to pierce the hides of large prey animals.

This may be true, but one must ask the question, "Was the Saber tooth cat ever "really" the apex predator?"

Nobody ever really talks about this, much, but were there non-saber tooth cats living at the same time and same general area as the saber tooth cats? Obviously there must have been non-sabre tooths in other locations, because we can't imagine how they'd be everywhere today if all of them were descended from NA saber tooths.

Modern cats, such as Lions, can take down adult Elephants through teamwork (I've even seen video of it,) so the Saber Teeth are by no means necessary to hunt other mega-fauna.

To me, there is a clear answer. The predatory mega-fauna's number one enemy around this time period would be man, and it's number two enemy would be the slightly smaller, but potentially much smarter ancestors of the modern big cats.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2012
There were other enemies, such as the short-faced bear, but the short-faced bear would have the same problem: slightly smaller, but much smarter can work together to defeat the bigger ones, if the bigger ones aren't as smart.

Now the teeth could just be a "bad" mutation that didn't get selected out for a while. Consider the Manx has no tail, but it doesn't really effect the animal very much.

You may be able to thing of reasons for big teeth to be an advantage, but I can think of many reasons for them to be a disadvantage. It would actually be hard for a cat to bite and chew with those big teeth in the way, because it would need to "over-bite" and pull down with the large teeth, before closing it's lower jaws. Ironically, this would actually make it much harder for the cat to grip it's prey

Further, the Saber teeth are actually out of position to be a primary biting weapon anyway, because they are not as close to front of the mouth, but offset some, unlike a modern cats biggest teeth
rfw
5 / 5 (7) Dec 16, 2012
This cat's short tail adapted it for lurk & leap predation rather than a running strategy, like a bobcat. The Smilodon sabertooth's jaws swing back a huge distance enabling the elongated sabers to be used effectively HOWEVER the sabers in the adults are blunt, not sharp, and don't make for a convincing argument about stabbing prey. The juvenile's dentition was serrated like steak knives enabling very effective meat slicing. The "over bite" is actually very functional, operating much like the classic pointy-beaked can opener that was powered by amazingly huge neck muscles.
Take a look at the size of the upper cervicle muscle attachment areas. I was senior excavator at the Page museum & created the catalog on sabertoothed cat skulls, systematically describing each one. For more a unique view of the Tar Pits, look at my website, tarpitboss at mac dot com.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (5) Dec 16, 2012
rfw:

I'm not saying the teeth were useless. I'm just questioning the interpretation of whether they were actually "advantageous".

The larger the teeth the wider the jaw must open to get the same bite force.

A crocodile has a very wide opening for it's jaw, but does not have teeth size proportional to a sabre tooth cat. It takes time for the muscles to accelerate the jaw to produce a puncturing force, but the longer the teeth are the less acceleration before the teeth hit the target.

If you had two identical weights modified so that "A" has a 2 inch nail welded on it and weight "B" has a 3 inch nail welded on it, and you drop the weights from 5 inches, simulating a bite, then "B" has less time to be accelerated before the nail contacts the target (say a piece of wood or a steak used as a sample). This would simulate the amount of time muscles have to accelerate the jaw, given the same jaw opening.

The shorter teeth are actually superior.
NickFun
not rated yet Dec 16, 2012
Other saber toothed cats were in Africa. How did they get to the New World?
InterestedAmateur
not rated yet Dec 16, 2012
Consider the Manx has no tail, but it doesn't really effect the animal very much


The Manx has MAJOR health issues given it basically has spina bifida and a large percentage die before 5 years of age.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2012
NickFun: Saber teeth apparently evolved multiple times in the feline family, so the cats in different regions aren't directly related.

Lynx and bobcats also have very short tails, so the Manx health issues aren't a result of the short tail. They may, or may not, be the result of the same mutations that cause the short tail.

From a contrarian viewpoint, could the saber teeth be a mating display, similar to antlers on a deer, or colorful feathers on a bird? Not of direct benefit to the individual at all?
Mandan
not rated yet Dec 16, 2012
rfw:

I'm not saying the teeth were useless. I'm just questioning the interpretation of whether they were actually "advantageous".

The larger the teeth the wider the jaw must open to get the same bite force.

...If you had two identical weights modified so that "A" has a 2 inch nail welded on it and weight "B" has a 3 inch nail welded on it, and you drop the weights from 5 inches, simulating a bite, then "B" has less time to be accelerated before the nail contacts the target (say a piece of wood or a steak used as a sample). This would simulate the amount of time muscles have to accelerate the jaw, given the same jaw opening.

The shorter teeth are actually superior.


I guess you missed this in rfw's reply:

"The "over bite" is actually very functional, operating much like the classic pointy-beaked can opener that was powered by amazingly huge neck muscles."

I think that means these cats could "slam" the fangs into prey with mouths more or less closed, like a pick-axe.

nkalanaga
not rated yet Dec 17, 2012
They would also be handy for holding on, while the claws did the real damage.
jsdarkdestruction
not rated yet Dec 17, 2012
lurker, where have you seen a pride of lions take down a healthy adult elephant? i find it extremely unlikely. if its happened it is an exceedingly rare event.