The fearsome felines of the Ice Age in California don’t show
signs of starving immediately before their extinction. Teeth of saber-toothed cats and the American
lions didn’t have wear marks that would have suggested the cats were gnawing on
bones in hunger near the time of the cats’ extinctions.
“Tooth wear patterns suggest that these cats were not
desperately consuming entire carcasses, as was expected, and instead seemed to
be living the ‘good life’ during the late Pleistocene, at least up until the
very end,” said lead author Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University in a
Tooth wear patterns did reveal previously unknown
differences in the two cat species behavior. Saber-toothed cats, also known as Smilodon, appeared to
have regularly crunched bones, and showed no increase in this dietary
distinction toward the end of their reign, which spanned from 30,000 to 10,000
years ago. American lions however, were more finicky and seem to have avoided
bones, much as modern cheetahs do.
The extinction of the predators remains a mystery. Some have
suggested that the changing climate at
the end of the last Ice Age along with an influx of animals from Asia,
including the ferocious Homo sapiens,
may have left Smilodon with nothing to grin about.
Painting of Smilodon populator from the American Museum of Natural History.
(Charles R. Knight, Wikimedia Commons)