Barbourofelis (Wikimedia Commons).


Barbourofelis (Greek for "Barbour's cat"); pronounced BAR-bore-oh-FEE-liss


Plains of North America

Historical Epoch:

Late Miocene (10-8 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to six feet long and 250 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; long canine teeth; plantigrade posture


About Barbourofelis

The most notable of the barbourofelids--a family of prehistoric cats perched midway between the nimravids, or "false" saber-toothed cats, and the "true" saber-tooths of the felidae family--Barbourofelis was the only member of its breed to colonize late Miocene North America.

This sleek, muscular predator possessed some of the largest canines of any saber-toothed cat, true or false, and it was correspondingly hefty, the largest species weighing in at about the size of a modern lion (though more heavily muscled). Intriguingly, Barbourofelis seems to have walked in a plantigrade fashion (that is, with its feet flat on the ground) rather than in a digitigrade fashion (on its toes), in this respect making it seem more like a bear than a cat! (Oddly enough, one of the contemporary animals that competed with Barbourofelis for prey was Amphicyon, the "bear dog").

Given its odd gait and enormous canines, how did Barbourofelis hunt? As far as we can tell, its strategy was similar to that of its later, heavier cousin Smilodon, aka the Saber-Toothed Tiger, which lived in Pleistocene North America. Like Smilodon, Barbourofelis whiled away its time in the low branches of trees, pouncing suddenly when a tasty bit of prey (like the prehistoric rhino Teleoceras and the prehistoric elephant Gomphotherium) approached.

As it landed, it dug its "sabers" deep into the hide of its unfortunate victim, which (if it didn't die immediately) gradually bled to death as its assassin stalked close behind. (As with Smilodon, the sabers of Barbourfelis may occasionally have broken off in combat, which would have deadly consequences for both predator and prey.)

Although there are four separate species of Barbourofelis, two are better known than the others. The slightly smaller B. loveorum (about 150 pounds) has been discovered as far afield as California, Oklahoma and especially Florida, while B. fricki, discovered in Nebraska and Nevada, was about 100 pounds heavier. One odd thing about B. loveorum, which is especially well represented in the fossil record, is that the juveniles apparently lacked fully functional saber teeth, which may (or may not) imply that newborns received a few years of tender parental care before venturing out alone into the wild. Telling against this parental-care hypothesis, though, is that Barbourofelis had a much smaller brain, relative to its body size, than modern big cats, and so may not have been capable of this kind of sophisticated social behavior.

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Strauss, Bob. "Barbourofelis." ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2017, Strauss, Bob. (2017, January 24). Barbourofelis. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Barbourofelis." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2018).