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NIU biologist Virginia Naples is helping put new face on ferocious saber-tooth cats
Date:10/26/2011

and Asia -- were generally pursuit predators. With a body like a cheetah and shorter and more coarsely serrated canines than its California cousin, the scimitar-tooth cat relied on its speed to catch prey, including baby mammoths weighing as much as a ton.

In "The Other Saber-tooths," Naples and her co-editors reconstruct what scimitar-tooth cats might have looked like, discuss how the animals captured and killed prey and describe how the ferocious felines interacted with non-prey animals. Highly detailed descriptions reveal the biology of the cats, explain how they originated, and set them in an evolutionary context.

"While we don't know for sure what a saber-tooth cat would have looked like, I have done comparisons of the skull morphology with living species of cats and also have conducted reconstructions of the skull and facial muscles," Naples says. "We've worked with professional illustrators as well, and our saber-tooth illustrations differ from the way the cat has been presented in past."

Studies by Naples and her colleagues indicate that, in comparison with the profile of a modern house cat, the nose of the saber tooth was pulled back -- more of a Roman nose than the big square snout of a lion," Naples says.

The saber tooth also needed to open its jaws wide in order to take in food.

"It had to have lips that could stretch to allow the jaws to open wide, so the lips must have been bigger and looser than modern cats. It probably had jowls like a St. Bernard -- and probably drooled like one, too," Naples says.

She and her colleagues also describe a relatively new subset of scimitar-tooth cat, which they've dubbed the Cookie-Cutter Cat," for its ability to chomp a large, clean chunk of flesh from its prey.

Its fossils were recovered in the early 1980s from a North Central Florida gravel pit. Amateur collectors thought they had the skull of scimitar-tooth cat and the skeleton of a dirk-tooth saber-
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Contact: Tom Parisi
tparisi@niu.edu
815-753-3635
Northern Illinois University
Source:Eurekalert  

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