Surrounded by the busy streets of Los Angeles, the grounds of the Page Museum are the last place you’d expect to find the remains of thousands of mammoths, mastodons and huge cats. But it is here at the La Brea Tar Pits that natural asphalt seeps have entombed many animals including the well-known saber-toothed cat.
Z. Jack Tseng of the American Museum of Natural History and his team used x-ray imaging and isotopic analysis on Smilodon specimens from La Brea. They discovered that the cat’s huge canines grew at twice the rate of lions. Smilodon also had baby saber teeth until it was just over 1 year old. When it shed its teeth, the new serrated 7-inch-long incisors were already erupting and grew to full length by about age 3. Its permanent teeth grew at the rate of 6mm per month.
Smilodon was a highly specialized carnivore that lived in North and South America. Its body was more robust than any living cat and its forelimbs were very well-developed. Along with its huge canines it could also open its mouth to 120 degrees, twice the range of living lions. These features combined to make Smilodon a formidable predator.