A multi-million-year predator niche has been empty for roughly the last 11,000 years.
We should be celebrating that fact. Instead, we wish they were still around!
Well, it’s understandable. If safety could be guaranteed, who wouldn’t want to go see a live sabertoothed cat at the zoo?
Paleontologists have gotten DNA from well-preserved fossils of the two most famous sabertooths – Smilodon and Homotherium. (Barnett and others)
But if Jurassic Park-style cloning really worked (they’re working on it), safety could not be guaranteed in the saber-cat enclosure.
Nobody knows how these extinct animals behaved.
Some sabertoothed cats were probably good jumpers (Morales and others); most could climb; and a few behemoths had the brutal momentum that a half-ton body mass makes possible when they charged. (Antón; Turner and Antón)
Anyway, they were all cats and therefore moody, quick to react, and unpredictable.
Yet, despite the risks, we all so want to see a sabertoothed cat!
The idea of a living sabertooth isn’t total fantasy. It’s very unlikely, but a new one really could appear any day.
After all, evolution is still going on.
And for the last fifty million years (Antón), that ambush-and-slash niche for sabertoothed mammals has always been refilled after a brief vacancy. Then it has been occupied for tens of millions of years at a stretch.
It’s good to be an apex predator.
Cats didn’t invent saberteeth. These killing tools go back to the days before mammals.
How did cats get them and why aren’t there any sabertooths around today?
To be continued tomorrow
Featured image: Barbourofelis fricki, Museo di Paleontologia di Firenze: Ghedoghedo. CC-SA 3.0. Edited by BJD.
Smilodon populator, Hungarian Natural History Museum: Tiberio. Public domain.
Barbourofelis loveorum, Florida Museum of National History Fossil Hall at University of Florida: Dallas Krentzel. CC-BY 2.0.
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This series on sabertooths was originally posted at my Robin Huntingdon blog about a year ago.