Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Saber-toothed Cat or Smilodon

Smilodon fatalis


The saber-toothed cat, also known as Smilodon, was a large predatory cat from the Pleistocene Epoch that is now extinct. This species was about 39-47 inches high at the shoulder (smaller than an African lion). Smilodon had extremely long, curved upper canines with sharp serrations on both sides. These canines were 8-10 inches long and protruded outside of the mouth when jaws were closed. This species had a short/bobbed tail, compact limbs and weighed between 400-800 lbs. There are three known species of Smilodon; S. populate (the largest, similar to an African lion), S. gracilis (the smallest of the three), and S. fatalis (intermediate in size).


Fossils of S. gracilis have been found in eastern North America and the Anza-Borrego Desert. Remains of S. populator have been discovered in South America and remains of S. fatalis have been discovered in North and South America, including the Rancho La Brea region where the remains of 2,000 saber-toothed cats have been discovered in the pools of natural asphalt. The first saber-toothed cat fossils were found in Lagoa Santa, Brazil in 1842.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

This species most likely used stealth techniques to ambush its prey rather than speed. There has been some evidence of this species hunting cooperatively with other individuals to take down large prey.


All cat species provide maternal care for young and it is presumed to also be true for the saber-toothed cat.

Months and Times of Activity

This species was present during the Pleistocene Epoch and became extinct 10,000 years ago.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    The saber-toothed cat is California’s state fossil.
•    The Smilodon was once known as the saber-toothed tiger, but it is not in the tiger family. Although this species has more in common with the African lion than the tiger, it actually is more closely related to the bobcat.
•    The genus Smilodon was derived from the ancient Greek words for knife and tooth.
•    Fossil records have shown males and females of this species to have canine teeth of the same size. This is not true in lion prides, where males typically have larger canines.
•    Some paleontologists believe that these cats were social animals but there has not been evidence of living in a social group such as a pride.
•    To learn new findings that exposes a myth about saber-toothed cats go to;
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: SABER-TOOTHED CAT by Marc Zabludoff


"Sabertooth Cat." Fossil Mysteries. San Diego Natural History Museum, 2007. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
"Saber-toothed cat- Smilodon fatalis." At the Museum On Exhibit. Cleveland Museum of Natural HIstory, 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.