Never Arm Wrestle A Saber-toothed Tiger!
A saber-toothed tiger study co-authored by Professor Blaire Van Valkenburgh is featured in the journal PLoS ONE.
Saber-toothed cats may be best known for their supersized canines, but they also had exceptionally strong forelimbs for pinning prey before delivering the fatal bite, according to a new study. X-ray analysis reveals that saber-tooth forelimbs were exceptionally strong compared to their feline cousins.
Commonly called the "saber-toothed tiger," the extinct cat Smilodon fatalis roamed North and South America until 10,000 years ago, preying on large mammals such as bison, camels, mastodons and mammoths. Telltale clues from bones and teeth suggest they relied on their forelimbs as well as their fangs to catch and kill their prey.
To estimate how strong sabertooth forelimbs were relative to other cats, researchers used x-rays to measure the cross-sectional dimensions of the upper arm and leg bones of fossils recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. They also measured the limb bones of 28 cat species living today — ranging in size from the 6-pound margay to the 600-pound tiger — as well as the extinct American lion, the largest conical-toothed cat that ever lived. The researchers used their cross-sectional measurements to estimate bone strength and rigidity for each species. When they plotted rigidity against length for the 30 species in their study, species with longer limbs generally had stronger bones. But the data for the saber-toothed cat fell well outside the normal range —while their leg bones scaled to size, their arm bones were exceptionally thick for their length.
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Published: Tuesday, July 06, 2010