Mauricio Anton’s New Reconstruction of the Scimitar-toothed Cat’s (Homotherium latidens) Face

Most people don’t know there were 2 species of fanged cats living in North America during the Pleistocene. Smilodon fatalis is the more famous species because fossil specimens of this extinct animal are relatively abundant, especially from the La Brea Tar Pits fossil site in California. But there was a lesser-known species that was more widespread, ranging from Africa across Eurasia to Florida. This species is often referred to as the scimitar-toothed cat. In Africa and Eurasia it is given the scientific name Homotherium latidens, and in North America it’s given the scientific name H. serum, but genetic evidence suggests they could be considered the same species. Despite a widespread geographic distribution, the genetic evidence also suggests the scimitar-toothed cat existed in low population numbers. It is uncommon in the fossil record, and in Europe there is a large gap in occurrence. Fossil evidence of H. latidens is known from a 300,000-year-old fossil site but is not recorded again in Europe until a specimen was found dating to 28,000 years ago in the North Sea which was above sea level at that time. Although it was never a common animal, the scimitar-toothed cat was a long-lived species, originally evolving during the late Pliocene and not becoming extinct until the late Pleistocene–a time span of over 2 million years. Evidence from the Friesenhahn Cave site in Texas indicates it may have specialized in hunting juvenile mammoths and mastodons in North America. Some think it must have hunted in packs, but it may have had a technique that made individuals capable of bringing down much larger prey. They had unusual sloping backs, much like modern spotted hyenas.

Mauricio Anton is a talented paleo artist who beautifully illustrated the excellent book The Big Cats and their fossil relatives. He works with paleontologists to produce anatomically accurate drawings of extinct species of cats and other animals. His original drawing of the scimitar-toothed cat depicted the fangs protruding when it mouth was closed. However, in a recent study involving 3 scientists, he determined the fangs on this species did not protrude when its mouth was shut.

Images of scimitar-toothed cat and a tiger skull and jaw.
Maricio Anton’s new reconstruction of a scimitar-toothed cat’s face. He now believes its fangs didn’t protrude when its mouth was closed. However, he does think the saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis) did have protruding fangs when its mouth was closed.

For this study Anton and his colleagues looked at cat scans of extant big cat skulls and jaws and watched videos of them yawning and opening and closing their jaws. They also re-examined the skulls and jaws of Homotherium specimens. They concluded the fangs were not exposed when the scimitar-toothed cat closed its mouth. They still think the more famous species of saber-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis) did have exposed fangs when its mouth was closed. The fangs on the latter species were much longer. Other species of pre-historic cats and cat-like species may or may not have had exposed fangs when their jaws were shut, depending upon the characteristics of each individual species.

Note on the reference: In the paper below they refer to the scimitar-toothed cat as the saber-tooth cat for its common name. I prefer to call it the scimitar-toothed cat to prevent confusion with its more famous relative.


Anton, M.; G. Siliceo, J. Pastor, and M. Salesa

“Concealed Weapons: A Revised Reconstruction of the Facial Anatomy and Life Appearance of the Sabre-toothed Cat Homotherium latidens (Felidae, Machairodontinae)”

Quaternary Science Review 284 2022

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