Eusmilus (Wikimedia Commons).


Eusmilus (Greek for "early saber"); pronounced you-SMILE-us


Plains of North America and western Europe

Historical Epoch:

Early Oligocene (30 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About six feet long and 200-300 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Six-inch-long canines; weak jaw muscles

About Eusmilus

Even though it's technically classified as a "false" saber-toothed cat, Eusmilus had truly gigantic canines for its size, which at six inches or so were almost as long as its entire skull (when they weren't in use, this cat kept its big teeth cozy and warm in specially adapted pouches on its lower jaw, a trait it shared with the distantly related Thylacosmilus). However, Eusmilus also had comparatively weak jaw muscles--with its huge canines, it didn't need to inflict a powerful bite--and it was strangely lacking in supplementary teeth, sporting a relatively paltry two dozen or so. What this indicates is that Eusmilus hunted in traditional saber-tooth style, lying in wait in the low branches of trees, jumping and digging its lethal canines into unsuspecting prey, and then idling its time as its dinner bled to death.

Technically, Eusmilus is classified as a "nimravid" cat, meaning it was closely related to the contemporary Nimravus--with which it competed for prey in early Oligocene Europe and North America, along with yet a third nimravid, Hoplophoneus. In case you're wondering how all of these big-toothed cats could have hunted for megafauna mammals without getting in each others' way, the fact is that they didn't: one Nimravus skull bears tooth marks that exactly match the size and shape of Eusmilus' canines (however, this particular individual healed from its wounds and lived to hunt another day). We even have evidence for cannibalism, or at least intra-species combat, among saber-toothed cats: another identified Nimravus skull is embedded with the canines of a fellow pack member!