Sabertooth (Smilodon populator) is a prehistoric predator that became extinct at the end of the Ice Age about 10.000 years ago. This means that it is not alive today and we cannot currently see it.

You may have heard of it because it is so popular due to its unique and amazing looks, you might be wondering what a saber tooth looks like as it is popular, it has an attractive name and it is definitely something amazing in appearance.


The saber tooth has three species:

  • Smilodon fatalis
  • Smilodon gracilis
  • Smilodon populator

S. gracilies was the smallest of the species, while S. populator was the largest. The main difference between these species was weight and size.

This is how the saber tooth is usually represented.


The most distinctive feature of the saber tooth is its pair of elongated saber-shaped canines that were very sharp. It is because of this pair of long, sharp canines that it is known for. The pair of canines can grow up to 20 cm while the lower canines are smaller. They spread from the mouth even when the mouth was closed. In order to use these canines for hunting, the tiger tooth saber was able to open its jaw up to 90 degrees, which is much more than modern cats. These teeth grew to full size in three years after birth.

Compared to modern predators, the size of this large predator was similar to that of african lions modern. However, he was much stronger and had shorter limbs. The mass of the different species ranged between 55 kg and 400 kg. The length of the body was about 175 cm. The height of his shoulder was about 100 cm. It had a large head and strong neck muscles to capture large prey using its mouth.

Some of the physical characteristics of the saber tooth are so unique that they are called the saber tooth range. These include:

  • Elongated canines
  • Widen aperture
  • Voluminous forelimbs
  • Shorter hind limbs

His body was sturdier compared to today's cats and he was more like a oso of constitution. It has a short tail, unlike lions and tigers. No fossils of saber tooth skin or fur have been found, so there is no evidence of their color patterns. Based on evidence from plant fossils from that time, paleontologists believe it may have mottled fur similar to that of a Cheetah or a wild cat.


The saber tooth had a hyoid bone similar to the lion in shape and size. This means that your larynx could probably produce a sound similar to that of today's lions.


The saber tooth lived and hunted in packs. This ensured that they had food even when they were sick, injured or elderly. Other members of the group shared food with the affected member.
Like modern lions, they hunted animals in groups by trapping them. There were no visible differences in behavior and appearance between males and females of these animal species.

The Smilodon was the best predator in its habitat. Prey availability was equal to or greater than current prey availability in East Africa. Near the end of the Pleistocene epoch, Smilodon and other carnivores often broke their teeth, indicating intense competition in hunting and eating prey to the bone. Since the Smilodon couldn't crush bones, they might have associated with hyenas crushing them.


These large animals lived in areas where animals that ate plants lived. These areas include pine forests, shrub areas, and grasslands.


The saber-toothed tiger lived in North America and Europe during the Miocene and Pliocene epoch (23 million to 2,6 million years ago). They spread to Asia and Africa after the Pliocene epoch. Some of the Sabretooth moved to South America during the Pleistocene epoch (2,5 million to 10.000 years ago).

A creepy saber-toothed skull.


Mainly, the saber tooth hunted herbivores. It could have hunted horses, bison, and mastodons (extinct hairy elephants).

To learn more about the diet of these large carnivores, the researchers analyzed the fossil teeth of 15 Sabertooth (Smilodon fatalis) and 15 american leones (Panthera atrox) recovered from the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. These specimens ranged between 11.500 and 35.000 years old.

To study the fossils, the scientists used dental microwear texture analysis, developed by anthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas. This involves the use of three-dimensional imaging of the tooth surface. The image is then analyzed for microscopic grooves: eating the red meat produces small parallel scratches, while biting into the bones creates larger and deeper holes.

The research found that the wear pattern on the teeth of these animals mammals it was more like those of today's African lions, which sometimes crush bones when they eat. The wear pattern on the teeth of American lions, on the other hand, echoed that of the current cheetah, which deliberately avoids bones when feeding.

Analysis of both the oldest and most recent fossils revealed no evidence that wear patterns changed over time, and none had extreme micro wear like live hyenas, which consume entire carcasses, including bones. This suggests that the prey for these carnivores was not in short supply, the animals were not gnawing their victims to the bone.

«Tooth wear patterns suggest that these cats They weren't desperately consuming whole corpses, as expected, and instead seemed to be living a good life during the late Pleistocene, at least until the very end, ”DeSantis said.

How did they hunt?

They hunted in packs like modern lions, however the Sabretooth had different killing techniques than modern cats. It used to fight large prey on the ground using its claws and front legs, and then it would open its throat with the large canines to kill it instantly. It could only hunt large herbivores because it did not have the agility to hunt small animals like deer and antelope.


Saber teeth are generally considered predators at the top of the food chain. This means that adult individuals are not usually taken as prey by other animals. They were as large or larger than Siberian tigers, which are not usually on the menu of other predators. While some other animals in the area might be able to defeat one on a face-to-face basis on some occasions (such as large bears, wolf packs, horror birds, etc.) the risk of taking such dangerous prey would make that this was a rarity. Most interpretive conflicts are based more on territory and defense of deaths.


We cannot establish how these animals reproduced just from well-preserved bones. It is said that it should be similar to that of other felines.

State of conservation

The saber teeth apparently did not go extinct for lack of prey, contradicting a popular explanation for why they died, fossil evidence now suggests.

Even near extinction, the saber teeth likely had enough reserves to eat, the researchers noted.

A perfectly preserved skeleton of a Saber tooth.

The extinction of the saber teeth

The saber tooth became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch (12.000 years ago). The exact cause of its extinction has not been precisely determined and there are two different theories that explain the different reasons for its extinction:

  • Some researchers suggest that the main cause of the extinction of the Smilodon is the lack of prey. After the great herbivores became extinct at the end of the Ice Age, the Sabretooth Tiger also became extinct due to lack of food.
  • Other researchers suggest that the Sabretooth Tiger had a decent amount of food available to live on. However, they became extinct as a result of human hunting, damaging their habitat or climate change.

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