(ORDO NEWS) — Smilodon, a mighty cat armed with saber-like fangs, is one of the most recognizable animals of the late Pleistocene, although its biology still raises many questions from paleontologists.
Anatomically comparing smilodon with modern cats and their extinct relatives, Belgian scientists tried to answer the question of how this ancient predator managed to stick its famous fangs into the victim.
Hypertrophied, “saber” fangs have repeatedly appeared in the evolutionary history of mammals in a variety of predators, sometimes only remotely related to each other.
This phenomenon is called convergent evolution : once in similar conditions, organisms develop similar adaptations. In the case of saber fangs, this is an adaptation for hunting large prey.
Indeed, the long fangs of the smilodon, or saber-toothed tiger , were capable of piercing through thick layers of hide and blubber to reach vulnerable prey organs.
But in order to bring them into a “combat position”, the beast had to open its mouth by about 110 degrees. How effective could a bite be from such an extreme position?
To answer this question, researchers led by Narimane Chatar of the University of Liege, Belgium, scanned and modeled the skulls, mandibles, and muscles of 17 species of extinct saber-toothed predators and modern felids.
The strength and effectiveness of the bite was studied at 30 (this is typical for today’s big cats), 60 and 90 degrees of mouth opening, and the load on the skull bones was also assessed.
It turned out that saber-toothed predators were anatomically adapted to bite with the most open mouth.
Unlike modern felids, in which the opening of the mouth more than 90 degrees can lead to a dislocated or broken lower jaw, in Smilodon and other extinct saber-toothed, the load on the bones only decreased with an increase in the opening angle of the mouth.
Curiously, the effectiveness of the bite in saber-toothed and modern cats was comparable. Despite a weaker bite compared to, say, a modern tiger, Smilodon was no less effective in transferring force from muscles to bones and teeth, driving its hypertrophied fangs into the victim.
In other words, despite their different anatomy and probably the way they kill prey, saber-toothed and modern tigers are equally effective killers.
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