Story at a glance:
- Researchers found a single saber-toothed cat bone that belonged to an animal that weighed up to 900 pounds.
- The new species might have hunted down 6,000-pound animals.
- It may have been the ancestor of the ancient Smilodon, the most famous saber-toothed cat.
Researchers found a single saber-toothed cat bone that belonged to an animal that weighed up to 900 pounds.
Scientists say the fossil, a portion of the saber's elbow bone, did not match other similar big cat bones around, making this a discovery of a new species, Phys.org reported.
The researchers visited numerous museums in the U.S., Canada and France, and they used software to compare lions, pumas, panthers, jaguars and tigers to their saber-toothed cat to confirm it was entirely new fossils and not a previously identified extinct big cat.
The new species of saber-toothed cat, on average, weighed 600 pounds. But they could weigh up to 900 pounds, making it among the largest known cats in history. It lived 5 million to 9 million years ago, and scientists discovered that with its massive forearms, it could take down prey as much as 6,000 pounds. But they think it often hunted prey that weighed between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds.
"We believe these were animals that were routinely taking down bison-sized animals," Jonathan Calede, an assistant professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University's Marion campus who co-authored the study, said. "This was by far the largest cat alive at that time."
Other animals likely on the cats’ menu include rhinos, giant camels and giant ground sloths.
John Orcutt, assistant professor of biology at Gonzaga University and the other author of the study who initiated the project, said the cat's upper arm bone signals that it is the ancestor to an ancient saber-toothed cat called the Smilodon that went extinct 10,000 years ago.
"It's been known that there were giant cats in Europe, Asia and Africa, and now we have our own giant saber-toothed cat in North America during this period as well," Calede said. "There's a very interesting pattern of either repeated independent evolution on every continent of this giant body size in what remains a pretty hyperspecialized way of hunting, or we have this ancestral giant saber-toothed cat that dispersed to all of those continents."
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA