Ice Age Sabertooth Was a Pussy Cat
SYDNEY - The Ice Age sabertooth, with its large protruding fangs, was actually a bit of a pussycat, according to Australian scientists who studied the power of its bite and hunting skills.
While most people rank the sabertooth alongside the Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur as a killing machine, in reality today's lions are far more powerful, the study found.
Using the skull of a modern-day lion for comparison, a team of scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) found the sabertooth had a relatively weak bite.
In fact, its bite was about one third as powerful as a lion.
"For all its reputation, Smilodon had a wimpy bite," UNSW paleontologist Steve Wroe said in a statement. Smilodon is the name for the extinct genus of sabrsaber-toothedetoothed cats.
"It's a bit like a moggy," he said, using the slang for cat.
Scientists from UNSW and the University of Newcastle used a computer-based technique called Finite Element Analysis to test the bite force and feeding mechanics of the sabertooth, which preyed on giant bison, horse and perhaps mammoths and mastodons.
The analysis is normally used to study transport crashes, but allowed the scientists to reverse engineer a 3D-model image of a Smilodon skull to find out what sort of forces it could handle.
The team found that under most conditions, the sabertooth's skull performed very poorly compared to that of a lion
The scientists said this would have seriously limited the big cat to a very specific range of killing behaviors, but it was still a formidable predator.
"Smilodon was an awesome beast and what it lacked in bite force it more than made up for elsewhere," said Wroe.
The sabertooth had an immensely powerful body, perfect for wrestling large prey to the ground, which it did before trying to inflict a killing bite, said the study published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science this week.
"Killing was more likely applied to the prey's throat, because it is easier to restrain the prey this way. Once the bite was done the prey would have died almost instantly," said Colin McHenry, from Newcastle university.