This Marsupial Sabertooth Was No Killer Cat
by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
The extinct saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis prowled Pleistocene North America sporting seven-inch, blade-like canines that paleontologists say may have allowed it to slit gaping wounds across throats and bellies to swiftly bleed out its prey, reports Riley Black for National Geographic.
Understandably, when paleontologists discovered an ancient Argentine marsupial the size of a leopard with fangs that were even larger, relative to its body size, they assumed its huge canines were also for slashing and impaling writhing prey. But now, new research suggests that the marsupial sabertooth, Thylacosmilus atrox, was more likely a scavenger than a death-dealing predator.
Thylacosmilus didn’t just carry its young inside a pouch like modern marsupials, it also kept its saber-teeth sheathed by bony protrusions from its lower jaw that may have protected the fangs when its mouth was closed, reports Matt Kaplan for the New York Times.
The re-evaluation of how Thylacosmilus made its living as a carnivore came from an array of observations regarding its anatomy that appeared to have been lost in the shadow cast by the creature’s fearsome-looking teeth.