Homotherium latidens, a big sabertooth cat of the Pliocene Epoch

Heraldo Mussolini / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The most successful of all the saber-toothed cats (the most famous example of which is Smilodon, aka the "Saber-Toothed Tiger"), Homotherium spread as far afield as North and South America, Eurasia and Africa, and enjoyed an unusually long time in the sun: this genus persisted from the start of the Pliocene epoch, about five million years ago, to as recently as 10,000 years ago (at least in North America). Often called a "scimitar cat" because of the shape of its teeth, Homotherium subsisted on prey as diverse as early Homo sapiens and Woolly Mammoths.

Unusual Features

The oddest feature of Homotherium was the marked imbalance between its front and hind legs: with its long front limbs and squat hind limbs, this prehistoric cat was shaped more like a modern hyena, with which it probably shared the habit of hunting (or scavenging) in packs. The large nasal openings in Homotherium's skull hint that it required large amounts of oxygen (meaning it likely chased prey at high speeds, at least when it had to), and the structure of its hind limbs indicates that it was capable of sudden, murderous leaps. This cat's brain was endowed with a well-developed visual cortex, an indication that Homotherium hunted by day (when it would have been the apex predator of its ecosystem) rather than night.

Homotherium is known by a plethora of species — there are no less than 15 named varieties, ranging from H. aethiopicum (discovered in Ethiopia) to H. venezuelensis (discovered in Venezuela). Since many of these species overlapped with other genera of saber-toothed cats — most notably the above-mentioned Smilodon — it appears that Homotherium was well-adapted to high-latitude environments like mountains and plateaus, where it could stay well out of the way of its equally hungry (and equally dangerous) relatives.

Fast Facts

  • Name: Homotherium (Greek for "same beast"); pronounced HOE-mo-THEE-ree-um
  • Habitat: Plains of North and South America, Eurasia and Africa
  • Historical Epoch: Pliocene-Modern (five million-10,000 years ago)
  • Size and Weight: Up to seven feet long and 500 pounds
  • Diet: Meat
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Long front than hind limbs; powerful teeth
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Strauss, Bob. "Homotherium." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/homotherium-same-beast-1093219. Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). Homotherium. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/homotherium-same-beast-1093219 Strauss, Bob. "Homotherium." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/homotherium-same-beast-1093219 (accessed November 29, 2022).