Sabre tooth tiger used strong arm tactics, according to articles in ScienceShots 2 July 2010, and Fossil Science, 6 July 2010.

Researchers at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina have studied x-rays of the limb bones of the extinct giant cat commonly known as the “sabre tooth tiger” and scientifically named Smilodon fatalis, and compared them with bones of other cats, including modern day tigers and the extinct American lion. The x-rays enabled scientists to estimate the strength and rigidity of the bone from the thickness of the outer layer and the internal structure.

They found sabre tooth tigers had extremely strong forelimbs, much stronger than other cats, even when their size is taken into account. Julie Meachen-Samuels, a palaeontologist who was involved in the study, explained: “As muscles pull on bones, bones respond by getting stronger. Because sabre-toothed cats had thicker arm bones we think they must have used their forelimbs more than other cats did.” Based on these findings scientists suggest that sabre tooth tigers used their arms rather than their teeth, to subdue their prey.

Sabre tooth tigers got this name because of their enormously long sharp teeth, but the teeth are oval in cross-section and this made them easy to break. Meachen-Samuels explained: “Cats living today have canines that are round in cross-section, so they can withstand forces in all directions. If the prey is struggling it doesn’t matter which way it’s pulling – their teeth are unlikely to break.”

Editorial Comment: There are other explanations for the combination of strong arms and long, sharp, but easily broken teeth. Strong arms would be useful for climbing trees. Sharp teeth are useful for eating fruit, which doesn’t fight or struggle, and therefore, would not break the oval shaped teeth.

Maybe the reason sabre tooth tigers are extinct, whilst other big cats have survived, is that they were unable to convert to being predators because their teeth kept breaking, and there were no longer any trees big enough for them climb

Evidence News 28 July 2010

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