Saber-Toothed Cat Pictures and Profiles

01
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These Prehistoric Cats Didn't Use a Litter Box

Smilodon
Smilodon, aka the Saber-Toothed Tiger. Wikimedia Commons

After the demise of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, the saber-toothed cats of the Cenozoic Era were among the most dangerous predators on the planet. On the following slides, you'll find pictures and detailed profiles of over a dozen saber-toothed cats, ranging from Barbourofelis to Xenosmilus.

02
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Barbourofelis

barbourofelis
Barbourofelis. Wikimedia Commons

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. See an in-depth profile of Barbourofelis

03
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Dinictis

dinictis
Dinictis (Wikimedia Commons).

Name:

Dinictis (Greek for "terrible cat"); pronounced die-NICK-tiss

Habitat:

Plains of North America

Historical Period:

Middle Tertiary (33-23 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet long and 100 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long legs with short feet; sharp cheek teeth

Although it was unmistakably an early feline, Dinictis had some very un-cat-like characteristics--most notably its flat, bearlike feet (the feet of modern cats are more pointed, the better to walk quietly on tiptoe and sneak up on prey). Dinictis also possessed semi-retractable claws (as opposed to fully retractable claws for modern cats), and its teeth weren't quite as advanced, with relatively thick, round, blunt canines. It probably occupied the same niche in its North American environment as modern leopards do in Africa.

04
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Dinofelis

dinofelis
Dinofelis. Paleocraft

Name:

Dinofelis (Greek for "terrible cat"); pronounced DIE-no-FEE-liss

Habitat:

Woodlands of Europe, Asia, Africa and North America

Historical Epoch:

Pliocene-Pleistocene (5-1 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About five feet long and 250 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Relatively short canines; thick forelimbs

Although the two front canines of Dinofelis were big and sharp enough to inflict fatal bites on its prey, this cat is technically known as a "false saber tooth" because it was only distantly related to Smilodon, the "true" saber-toothed cat. Judging by its anatomy, paleontologists believe that Dinofelis wasn’t particularly fast, meaning it probably stalked its prey in jungles and woodlands where long, tiring chases would have been impeded by the dense undergrowth. Some experts even speculate that the African species of Dinofelis might have preyed on the early hominid (and remote human ancestor) Australopithecus.

05
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Eusmilus

eusmilus
Eusmilus. Witmer Labs

The canines of Eusmilus were truly gigantic, almost as long as this prehistoric cat's entire skull. When they weren't being used to inflict savage wounds on prey, these giant teeth were kept cozy and warm in specially adapted pouches on Eusmilus' lower jaw. See an in-depth profile of Eusmilus

06
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Homotherium

homotherium
Homotherium. Wikimedia Commons

Homotherium's strangest feature was the imbalance between its front and hind legs: with its long front limbs and short hind limbs, this prehistoric cat was shaped like a modern hyena, with which it probably shared the habit of hunting (or scavenging) in packs. See an in-depth profile of Homotherium

07
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Hoplophoneus

hoplophoneus
Hoplophoneus (Wikimedia Commons).

Name:

Hoplophoneus (Greek for "armed murderer"); pronounced HOP-low-PHONE-ee-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Epoch:

Late Eocene-Early Oligocene (38-33 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet long and 100 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Short limbs; long, sharp canines

Hoplophoneus wasn't technically a true saber-toothed cat, but that didn't make it any less dangerous to the smaller animals of its day. Judging by this prehistoric cat's anatomy--especially its relatively short limbs--experts believe Hoplophoneus perched patiently on the high branches of trees, then leaped on its prey and inflicted fatal wounds with its long, sharp canines (hence its name, Greek for "armed murderer"). Like another prehistoric cat, Eusmilus, Hoplophoneus tucked its murderous teeth into specially adapted, fleshy pouches on its lower jaw when they weren't being used.

08
of 18

Machairodus

machairodus
Machairodus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Machairodus (Greek for "knife tooth"); pronounced mah-CARE-oh-duss

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America, Africa and Eurasia

Historical Epoch:

Late Miocene-Pleistocene (10 million to 2 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About five feet long and a few hundred pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Thick limbs; large canines

You can tell a lot about a prehistoric cat by the shape of its limbs. Clearly, the squat, muscular fore and hind legs of Machairodus weren't suited for high-speed chases, leading paleontologists to infer that this saber-toothed cat leaped on its prey suddenly from high trees, wrestled it to the ground, punctured its jugular with its large, sharp canines, then withdrew to a safe distance while its unfortunate victim bled to death. Machairodus is represented in the fossil record by numerous individual species, which varied widely in size and probably fur pattern (stripes, spots, etc.).

09
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Megantereon

megantereon
Megantereon. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Megantereon (Greek for "giant beast"); pronounced MEG-an-TER-ee-on

Habitat:

Plains of North America, Africa and Eurasia

Historical Epoch:

Late Oligocene-Pleistocene (10 million to 500,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet long and 100 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Powerful front limbs; long, sharp canines

Because its front canines weren't quite as powerful and well-developed as those of the true saber-toothed cats, most notably Smilodon, Megantereon is sometimes referred to as a "dirk-toothed" cat. However you want to describe it, this was one of the most successful predators of its day, which made its living by stalking the giant megafauna of the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs. Using its powerful front limbs, Megantereon would wrestle these beasts to the ground, inflict fatal wounds with its knife-like teeth, then withdraw to a safe distance as its unfortunate prey bled to death. Occasionally, this prehistoric cat snacked on other fare: a skull of the early hominid Australopithecus has been found bearing two Megantereon-sized puncture wounds.

10
of 18

Metailurus

metailurus
Metailurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Metailurus (Greek for "meta-cat"); pronounced MET-ay-LORE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America, Africa and Eurasia

Historical Epoch:

Late Miocene-Modern (10 million-10,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About five feet long and 50-75 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large canines; slender build

Like its close relative--the much more robust (and much more impressively named) Dinofelis--Metailurus was a "false" saber-toothed cat, which probably wasn't much consolation to its unfortunate prey. (The "false" sabers were every bit as dangerous as the "true" sabers, with some subtle anatomical differences.) This "meta-cat" (perhaps named in reference to the distantly related Pseudailurus, the "pseudo-cat") possessed large canines and a sleek, leopard-like build, and was presumably more agile (and inclined to live in trees) than its "dino-cat" cousin.

11
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Nimravus

nimravus
Nimravus. Karen Carr/www.karencarr.com

Name:

Nimravus (Greek for "ancestral hunter"); pronounced nim-RAY-vuss

Habitat:

Woodlands of North America

Historical Epoch:

Oligocene-Early Miocene (30 to 20 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About four feet long and 100 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Short legs; dog-like feet

As you travel further and further back in time, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the earliest felines from other predatory mammals. A good example is Nimravus, which was vaguely catlike in appearance with some hyena-like characteristics (the giveaway was this predator's single-chambered inner ear, which was much simpler than that of the true cats that succeeded it). Nimravus is considered to be the ancestor of the "false" saber-toothed cats, a line that includes Dinofelis and Eusmilus. It probably made its living by chasing small, quivering herbivores across the grassy woodlands of North America.

12
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Proailurus

proailurus
Proailurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Proailurus (Greek for "before the cats"); pronounced PRO-ay-LURE-us

Habitat:

Woodlands of Eurasia

Historical Epoch:

Late Oligocene-Early Miocene (25-20 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About two feet long and 20 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; large eyes

Not a lot is known about Proailurus, which some paleontologists believe may have been the last common ancestor of all modern cats (including tigers, cheetahs and harmless, striped tabbies). Proailurus may or may not have been a true feline itself (some experts place it in the Feloidea family, which includes not only cats, but hyenas and mongooses). Whatever the case, Proailurus was a relatively small carnivore of the early Miocene epoch, only a little bit bigger than a modern house cat, which (like the saber-toothed cats to which it was distantly related) probably stalked its prey from the high branches of trees.

13
of 18

Pseudealurus

pseudaelurus
The lower jaw of Pseudaelurus. Wikimedia Commons

Name:

Pseudaelurus (Greek for "pseudo-cat"); pronounced SOO-day-LORE-us

Habitat:

Plains of Eurasia and North America

Historical Epoch:

Miocene-Pliocene (20-8 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to five feet long and 50 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Sleek build; relatively short legs

Pseudaelurus, the "pseudo-cat," occupies an important place in feline evolution: this Miocene predator is believed to have evolved from Proailurus, often considered to be the first true cat, and its descendants include both the "true" saber-toothed cats (like Smilodon) and modern cats. Pseudaelurus was also the first cat to migrate to North America from Eurasia, an event that occurred about 20 million years ago, give or take a few hundred thousand years.

Somewhat confusingly, Pseudaelurus is represented in the fossil record by no less than a dozen named species, spanning the expanse of North America and Eurasia and encompassing a wide range of sizes, from small, lynx-like cats to larger, puma-like varieties. What all these species shared in common was a long, slender body combined with relatively short, stubby legs, an indication that Pseudaelurus was good at climbing trees (either to pursue of smaller prey or to avoid being eaten itself).

14
of 18

Smilodon

smilodon saber-toothed tiger
Smilodon (Saber-Toothed Tiger). Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of Smilodon skeletons have been extracted from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The last specimens of this prehistoric cat went extinct 10,000 years ago; by then, primitive humans had learned how to hunt cooperatively and kill off this dangerous menace once and for all. See 10 Facts About Smilodon

15
of 18

Thylacoleo

thylacoleo
Thylacoleo. Wikimedia Commons

The nimble, large-fanged, heavily built marsupial cat Thylacoleo was every bit as dangerous as a modern lion or leopard, and pound-for-pound it possessed the most powerful bite of any animal in its weigh class. See an in-depth profile of Thylacoleo

16
of 18

Thylacosmilus

thylacosmilus
Thylacosmilus. Wikimedia Commons

Like modern kangaroos, the marsupial cat Thylacosmilus raised its young in pouches, and it may have been a better parent than its saber-toothed cousins in North America. Oddly enough, Thylacosmilus lived in South America, not Australia! See an in-depth profile of Thylacosmilus

17
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Wakaleo

wakaleo
Wakaleo. Australian Museum

Name:

Wakaleo (indigenous/Latin for "little lion"); pronounced WACK-ah-LEE-oh

Habitat:

Plains of Australia

Historical Epoch:

Early-Middle Miocene (23-15 million years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 30 inches long and 5-10 pounds

Diet:

Meat

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Small size; sharp teeth

Although it lived millions of years before its more famous relative, Thylacoleo (also known as the Marsupial Lion), the much smaller Wakaleo may not have been a direct ancestor, but more like a second cousin a few thousand times removed. A carnivorous marsupial rather than a true cat, Wakaleo differed in some important respects from Thylacoleo, not only in its size but also in its relationship to other Australian marsupials: whereas Thylacoleo possessed some wombat-like traits, Wakaleo seems to have been more akin to modern possums.

18
of 18

Xenosmilus

xenosmilus
Xenosmilus attacking Glyptodon. Wikimedia Commons

The body plan of Xenosmilus doesn't conform to prehistoric cat standards: this predator possessed both short, muscular legs and relatively short, blunt canines, a combination that had never before been identified in this ancient breed. See an in-depth profile of Xenosmilus