Smilodon was the largest saber-tooth cat. It was a fierce predator about 4-5 feet long and 3 feet tall. It weighed about 440 lbs. It was a bit smaller than a modern-day lion, but much heavier. The cat appeared more like a bear than a cat.
It had relatively short legs and a short, bobbed tail. Its front legs were especially powerful. Its body was adapted for springing onto prey, but it was not a very fast runner.
Its 12-inch-long skull had 2 huge canine teeth. These saber-like teeth were serrated, oval in cross-section, and up to 12 inches long. Many Smilodon fossils have been found with broken canines. A fossil wolf was found with a Smilodon tooth fragment embedded in its skull. Smilodon had powerful jaws that opened to an angle of about 120°. Today's lions can only open their jaws 65°. Smilodon also had very strong jaw and neck muscles that let it stab prey with its deadly teeth.
Smilodon first appeared about 1.6 million years ago. It lived during the last Ice Age, in which the Earth got much colder than it is now. Ice sheets and glaciers covered much of the land and sea levels fell as sea water froze into polar ice and glaciers. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch.
Saber-tooth cats lived in grasslands, shrubby areas, and pine forests that supported the plant-eating animals that saber-tooth cats ate.
Smilodon was a carnivore, a meat-eater. This ferocious hunter may have eaten thick-skinned prey like mastodons (hairy, extinct elephants), horses, and bison. It probably ambushed its prey since its short legs limited its running speed. Its hunting strategy may have been to mortally wound its prey with its saber-like teeth, probably in the belly, and let the victim bleed to death. Smilodon, like most meat-eaters, may also have been a scavenger.
Thousands of Smilodon fossils have been found in late Pleistocene tar pits and rocks from North America, particularly in California and in South America.
This natural history set includes a licensed cast of a Smilodon 10” canine tooth found in the La Brea Tar Pits in California.