A group of scientists from Clemson University in South Carolina analyzed several fossils of saber-toothed cats and learned that the fierce animals didn’t grow their famous dagger-shaped teeth until the age of three.
Researchers explained that that meant saber-tooth mothers had to closely watch their cubs for 36 months until their primary defense tools grew. Yet, the data showed that when they did appear, teeth grew twice as fast as the modern-day lion’s.
The saber-toothed tiger or saber toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis) went extinct about 10,000 years ago. But before that date the predator thrived in various locations across both Americas. Their canines could often reach seven inches, or 18 cm, at maturity.
Until now, paleontologists had little information on how fast those teeth grew although they had at their disposal a trove of fossils to study. The research team used fossils unearthed at La Brea Tar Pits in L.A.
They performed complex X-ray analyses and oxygen isotope tests to be able to tell when Smilodon’s teeth emerged and at what rate precisely. The team found that the cats had all their teeth in place by the age of two, except for their fangs.
Tests showed that the tigers developed a full-grown pair of teeth by the age of three, which is unusually late for a member of the cat family. But when the canines started to emerge, they seemingly grew twice as fast as a lion’s.
Researchers wrote in a paper about the saber-tooth tiger’s canines that the complex analysis used in the study could prove helpful in learning more about the growth rate of other ancient species including elephants and marine warm-blooded animals that have tusks.
‘If you think about it, Smilodon fatalis likely left their paw prints on what is today Hollywood Boulevard long before Marilyn Monroe left her hand prints at the Chinese Theater,’
one of the researchers jokingly noted.
But having a full-grown pair of canines was crucial for the saber-tooth cats’ survival. They may have used their long teeth to rip critical arteries located at their prey’s neck for a quick hunt.
Saber-toothed tigers were no larger than a modern day tiger but they had a sturdier build with powerful muscles and stiffer back. They were “lions on steroids,” as one researcher put it, with daggers emerging from their mouth.
But before maturity, Smilodons grew baby sabers. That occurred around age one or one and a half. Adult sabers reached their full elongation at about age 3 or 3 and a half, scientists said.
Image Source: Telegraph.uk