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Extinct genus of saber-toothed cat / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Smilodon is a genus of felids belonging to the extinct subfamily Machairodontinae. It is one of the best known saber-toothed predators and prehistoric mammals. Although commonly known as the saber-toothed tiger, it was not closely related to the tiger or other modern cats. Smilodon lived in the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 mya – 10,000 years ago). The genus was named in 1842 based on fossils from Brazil; the generic name means "scalpel" or "two-edged knife" combined with "tooth". Three species are recognized today: S. gracilis, S. fatalis, and S. populator. The two latter species were probably descended from S. gracilis, which itself probably evolved from Megantereon. The hundreds of specimens obtained from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles constitute the largest collection of Smilodon fossils.

Quick facts: Smilodon Temporal range Early Pleistocene to...
Temporal range: Early Pleistocene to Early Holocene, 2.5–0.01 Ma
Mounted S. populator skeleton at Tellus Science Museum
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Machairodontinae
Tribe: Smilodontini
Genus: Smilodon
Lund, 1842
Type species
Smilodon populator
Lund, 1842
Other species
  • S. fatalis Leidy, 1869
  • S. gracilis Cope, 1880
Genus synonymy
  • Munifelis Muñis, 1845
  • Trucifelis Leidy, 1868
  • Smilodontopsis Brown, 1908
  • Prosmilodon Rusconi, 1929
  • Smilodontidion Kraglievich, 1948
Species synonymy
  • S. populator:
    • Munifelis bonaerensis Muñis, 1845
    • Smilodon blainvillii Desmarest, 1860
    • Machaerodus bonaerensis Burmeister, 1867
    • Machaerodus necator Gervais, 1878
    • Smilodon ensenadensis Ameghino, 1888
    • Machaerodus ensenadensis Ameghino, 1889
    • Smilodon crucians Ameghino, 1904
    • Smilodon bonaerensis Ameghino, 1907
    • Smilodon neogaeus ensenadensis Boule & Thévenin, 1920
    • Smilodon (Prosmilodon) ensenadensis Rusconi, 1929
    • Smilodon neogaeus de Paula Couto, 1940
    • Smilodon necator de Paula Couto, 1940
    • Smilodon (Prosmilodon) ensenadensis ferox Kraglievich, 1947
    • Smilodon (Prosmilodon) ensenadensis minor Kraglievich, 1948
    • Smilodontidion riggii Kraglievich, 1948
    • Machaerodus neogaeus Pictet, 1953
    • Felis smilodon Desmarest, 1953
    • Smilodon populator populator de Paula Couto, 1955
  • S. fatalis:
    • Felis (Trucifelis) fatalis Leidy, 1868
    • Trucifelis fatalis Leidy, 1869
    • Machaerodus fatalis Lydekker, 1884
    • Drepanodon floridanus Leidy, 1889
    • Machaerodus floridanus Leidy, 1889
    • Uncia mercerii Cope, 1895
    • Smilodon floridanus Adams, 1896
    • Machaerodus (Smilodon) mercerii Cope, 1899
    • Smilodon californicus Bovard, 1907
    • Smilodontopsis troglodytes Brown, 1908
    • Smilodontopsis conardi Brown, 1908
    • Smilodontopsis mercerii Brown, 1908
    • Smilodon nebraskensis Matthew, 1918
    • Machaerodus mercerii Matthew, 1918
    • Smilodon (Trucifelis) californicus Merriam & Stock, 1932
    • Smilodon (Trucifelis) fatalis Merriam & Stock, 1932
    • Smilodon (Trucifelis) nebraskensis Merriam & Stock, 1932
    • Smilodon (Trucifelis) californicus brevipes Merriam & Stock, 1932
    • Smilodon trinitensis Slaughter, 1960
  • S. gracilis:
    • Machaerodus (Smilodon) gracilis Cope, 1899
    • Smilodon (Smilodontopsis) gracilis Merriam & Stock, 1932
    • Megantereon gracilis Broom & Schepers 1946
    • Ischyrosmilus gracilis Churcher, 1984
    • Smilodontopsis gracilis Berta, 1995

Overall, Smilodon was more robustly built than any extant cat, with particularly well-developed forelimbs and exceptionally long upper canine teeth. Its jaw had a bigger gape than that of modern cats, and its upper canines were slender and fragile, being adapted for precision killing. S. gracilis was the smallest species at 55 to 100 kg (120 to 220 lb) in weight. S. fatalis had a weight of 160 to 280 kg (350 to 620 lb) and height of 100 cm (39 in). Both of these species are mainly known from North America, but remains from South America have also been attributed to them. S. populator from South America was the largest species, at 220 to 436 kg (485 to 961 lb) in weight and 120 cm (47 in) in height, and was among the largest known felids. The coat pattern of Smilodon is unknown, but it has been artistically restored with plain or spotted patterns.

In North America, Smilodon hunted large herbivores such as bison and camels, and it remained successful even when encountering new prey species in South America. Smilodon is thought to have killed its prey by holding it still with its forelimbs and biting it, but it is unclear in what manner the bite itself was delivered. Scientists debate whether Smilodon had a social or a solitary lifestyle; analysis of modern predator behavior as well as of Smilodon's fossil remains could be construed to lend support to either view. Smilodon probably lived in closed habitats such as forests and bush, which would have provided cover for ambushing prey. Smilodon died out at the same time that most North and South American megafauna disappeared, about 10,000 years ago. Its reliance on large animals has been proposed as the cause of its extinction, along with climate change and competition with other species, but the exact cause is unknown.