Didn’t you just adore Diego from the Ice Age movies? A rough and macho saber tooth tiger that has a heart of gold where his ‘herd’ is concerned. Perhaps after the woolly mammoth, the saber tooth tiger is the most famous animal from the ice age. But there is more to this mammal than what is depicted in the Ice Age movie franchises. Here you will learn some great saber tooth tiger facts for kids that we have collected.
Saber Tooth Fossil Skeleton
Photo Credit: Edin, Janine and Jim under CC license 2.0
Not Really a Tiger
The name saber tooth tiger is a little misleading. This prehistoric mammal is not a tiger. Rather, it was a prehistoric cat species that zoologists call Smilodon Fatalis. It is a distant relative of the modern cheetah, tiger and lion. Also, it is interesting to note there were many other members of this breed besides the famous saber tooth tiger.
My, What Big Teeth You Have!
Based on all the images that have been recreated using fossils as a base, the most fascinating feature of the saber tooth tiger undoubted is its teeth. The massive curved canines are said to be about 12 inches or a foot long in the largest saber tooth tiger. What is really strange though, these teeth were not very strong. In fact, paleontologists claim that the canines of saber tooth tiger were brittle and could break off easily.
Weak Jaw, Yes Sir!
It must have been quite funny to see a saber tooth tiger take a bite of its meal. It could open its jaws at an angle of 120 degrees. However, many of the Smilodon species did not have strong jaws. This prevented them from biting hard on their prey. Perhaps this had something to do with the need to protect their canines, which could be easily broken.
My Tasty Carnivorous Diet
These mammals were carnivorous and fed on prehistoric deer, horses, giant sloths, bison and buffaloes. They used to hunt juvenile woolly mammoths and mastodons. According to paleontologists, saber tooth tigers must have also preyed on prehistoric humans, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Researchers believe saber tooth tigers must have used their large canines to open the throat or belly of their prey rather than wrestling with it. In all probability, it must have used its canines to first deliver a stab wound, thereby crippling the prey and then waiting patiently for the prey to succumb to its wound.
Based on the fossils found in La Brea tar pits, paleontologists believe the saber tooth tiger was about a foot shorter than modern-day lions, but was about twice as heavy as the lion. In addition, it is believed, front and hind legs were of similar lengths and had retractable claws.
However, the Smilodon had a short tail, much like a bobtail. This has led paleontologists to assume that unlike the lion and cheetah, the saber tooth tiger did not chase prey for long distances. Instead, it must have waited for its prey to come close before charging and bringing it down.
Unfortunately, the color of the saber tooth tiger is not known, but it is believed it must have been similar in color to modern-day lions living in Africa.
The World is My Habitat
Unlike modern day big cats, which live in jungles and forests, the saber tooth tiger lived in grasslands and shrubby areas, as these were frequented by its prey. Fossil records show that most saber tooth tigers used to inhabit icy expanses of land. In modern geography, the saber tooth tiger thrived in North and South America during the ice age.
Where are My Pack Mates?
Majority of modern cats are pack animals and based on this fact, paleontologists feel that saber tooth tiger may have been a pack animal as well. Fossils of Smilodon have been found with signs of old age and it is this that led paleontologists to believe that these cats too lived in packs, as an old and frail saber tooth would not have been able to hunt and feed itself. So, it must have been fed by its pack members.
Me and the Cubs
It is assumed female saber tooth tigers used to breed during the early part of spring when the weather turned warmer. They had a gestation period of 8 months. A single litter would have around three cubs. While researchers don’t know how the female saber tooth nurtured and cared for its cubs, it is assumed these cubs were completely dependent on their mothers at birth, as they were blind at birth.
What Happened to Us?
There is some debate on the extinction of the saber tooth. While some paleontologists believe prehistoric humans were responsible for extinction of this species, others claim the onset of ice age was the main reason. With the change in the weather patterns, the vegetation also changed, leading to the extinction of the saber tooth.
Interesting Saber Tooth Tiger Facts for Kids:
- The saber tooth tiger became extinct sometime in 10,000 BC
- While the saber tooth used to hunt for its food, it did not mind scavenging a meal or two
- The smallest member of the saber tooth tiger family, the Smilodon gracilis, weighed about 150 pounds
- Paleontologists have found over 2,000 saber tooth tiger skeletons in tar pits located close to Los Angeles, thus suggesting that humans may have played a role in wiping out these mammals
- The presence of hyoid bone in the mouth indicates the saber tooth tiger had the ability to roar like present-day lions
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