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Saber-toothed cats apparently did not go extinct for lack of prey, fossil evidence suggests, contradicting a popular explanation for why they died. Even near their extinction, saber-toothed cats likely had enough to eat, researchers said.
In the period just before they went extinct, the American lions and saber-toothed cats that roamed North America in the late Pleistocene were living well off the fat of the land. That is the conclusion of the latest study of the
Contrary to previous studies, the analysis did not find any indications that the giant carnivores were having increased trouble finding prey in the period before they went extinct 12,000 years ago. The study contradicts previous dental studies and presents a problem for the most popular explanations for the Megafaunal (or Quaternary) extinction when the great cats, mammoths and a number of the largest mammals that existed around the world disappeared.
"The popular theory for the Megafaunal extinction is that either the changing climate at the end of the last Ice Age or human activity - or some combination of the two - killed off most of the large mammals," said Larisa DeSantis, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt.
"In the case of the great cats, we expect that it would have been increasingly difficult for them to find prey, especially if had to compete with humans. "We know that when food becomes scarce, carnivores like the great cats tend to consume more of the carcasses they kill. If they spent more time chomping on bones, it should cause detectable changes in the wear patterns on their teeth," said DeSantis in a statement.
The study revealed the saber-tooth cat's wear pattern most closely resembled those of the present-day African lion, which indulges in some bone crushing when it eats. Researchers examined how these patterns changed over time by selecting specimens from tar pits of different ages, ranging from about 35,000 to 11,500 years ago. They did not find any evidence that the two carnivores increased their "utilisation" of carcasses throughout this period. The study was published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
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