Show Details

Slinky Saber Cats

May 13, 2014

New research sheds light on physical adaptations that allowed saber-tooth cats to hunt prey.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Slinky saber cats. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A representation of what Smilodon fatalis may have look like. (Sergiodlarosa/Wikipedia)

A representation of what Smilodon fatalis may have look like. (Sergiodlarosa/Wikipedia)

A stealthy saber-toothed feline nicknamed the “cookie cutter cat” inhabited North America as recently as 300,000 years ago. It ambushed its prey, ripping into their flesh with serrated incisors.

VIRGINIA NAPLES (Northern Illinois University):

So I like to tell people it had an entire mouthful of steak knives. That’s exactly what you need for cutting meat or for biting a prey animal, just like a pair of scissors cuts through something.

HIRSHON
That’s Northern Illinois University paleontologist Virginia Naples. She studies the adaptations that allowed different kinds of saber-toothed cats to thrive. She found that one species, called Smilodon fatalis, had specialized shoulder and hip bones that allowed it to flatten itself out and slink along the ground.

NAPLES:

Neither the shoulder not the hip would stick up; the animal would be able to hide better and then be better able to sneak up on prey that it wants to have for lunch.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.