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FOSSIL FACTS: Saber-Cats!

sabercat skull-1
 

JUST THE FACTS:

 

What is it?
Skull and lower jaw of a saber-toothed cat (Smilodon).

 

Where were they found?
Giant Cement quarry, a few miles north of Harleyville (Dorchester County,SC).

 
sabercat skulls_Page_4
 

EXTRA CREDIT:

 

When did this saber-cat live?
400 to 450 thousand years ago.

 

What was the ancient habitat like?
Based on the plant and animal fossils that were found, as well as the gravelly sand that the fossils were buried in, we think that the saber-cat lived in a forested habitat (with pines, oak, and black walnut, among others) that bordered a river.

 

What other animals lived in the area?
Among the thousands of bones that were collected, the long list of animals includes salamanders, frogs, turtles and tortoises, birds, snakes, catfish, armadillo, giant ground sloth, horse, llamas, tapir, American cheetah, wolf, opossum, fox, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, and muskrat.

 

Ambush predator?
We think that saber-cats got as close to their prey as possible before attacking. Once close enough, they used their powerful front legs to grab and wrestle down the prey, then deliver a killing bite to the neck with the long, serrated fangs. Pieces of meat would have been bitten off and sliced into smaller pieces by the scissors-like teeth near the back of the jaws.

 

Why is it important?
The Smilodon fossils we found, which in addition to the skull includes isolated teeth, several jaws, neck and backbones, and arm, leg and toe bones, represent one of the largest collections from a single site outside of the tar pits in California (which are only about 23 thousand years old). Smilodon fossils have also been found in other parts of South Carolina, including Edisto Beach and within the city of Summerville.

 
 

Dave Cicimurri is the Curator of Natural History at the South Carolina State Museum.