Home Blog

What Does a Saber Tooth Tiger Look Like?  – Saber Tooth Tiger Description

what does a saber tooth tiger look like

With its ludicrously two long canines and a dun-colored coat the saber tooth tiger appears like a modern-day lion. But scientists aren’t exactly sure of the precise description of Smilodon since there is little evidence to show the same. Even today’s cats aren’t barely tells us about their ancestors. For instance, the modern-day big cats aren’t only recognized by their colorful coat—they have spots or stripes too. Saber tooth tigers however show neither of these attributes. Perhaps we can imagine what does a saber tooth tiger look like hundreds and thousands of years ago.

What Does a Saber Tooth Tiger Look Like? – Physical Description and Features of a Saber Tooth Tiger

what does a saber tooth tiger look like
Spotted coat of a saber tooth tiger. (Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s talk about modern cats first. Nearly all big cats surviving today likely display unique patterns of stripes and spots. From snow leopard to Bengal tiger—African lion to cheetah, the big cats seem to show entirely unique disposition no matter where they live or what they eat.

Studies suggest that there are essentially two genes that make the coat look so: one is responsible for displaying the general color while the other decorates the coat with some patterns like in true tigers. Unfortunately these patterns may not necessarily pass through generations so the cats living today might not probably reflect on those died out thousands of years ago.

Did Saber Tooth Tigers have a Plain Coat or a Spotted Coat?

Tigers have vertical stripes wile jaguars and leopards seem to display filled-in spots as well as closed spots respectively. However, ecologists do believe that the cats’ lineage play little role in defining the color of the coat.

Perhaps the color pattern of the cats appear to be correlated with the habitat preferences. On the one hand, cats that make homes in open habitats will show a plain coat with no pattern at all, on the other hand felids that inhabit forested habitats likely display coat with complex patterns of spots. The plain coat is obviously meant to camouflage big cats as they fancy hunting in open habitats. They had to spot a prey from far off which can only be possible if the cats (like cougars) remain camouflaged. But tigers or leopards that move in the woods are thought to be ambush hunters. They aren’t exposed to their prey.

Still there are a few animals that show coat patterns even though they hunt in open habitats. Cheetahs are one of them. Unlike lions, cheetahs are recognized by their distinctive coat patterns although they both prey on wide habitats. But then again cheetahs are impressively fast and they can run down an antelope in seconds so they don’t have to be camouflaged.

This obviously hold true for saber tooth tigers too. Also, it tells us much about the Smilodon’s habitat too. Since saber tooth cats had assumed to display pretty plain coat like present-day lions or cougars they likely preyed in the grasslands. But chances are that sabercats could have patterned coat yet they hunt in open grasslands just like African cheetahs.

Unlike true tigers living today, saber tooth tigers didn’t believe to show vertical stripes although their nickname does contain the word ‘tiger’. Scientists are convinced that saber-toothed tigers and modern tigers aren’t related to each other. They also believe that modern tigers are probably the only big cats to have vertical flanks.

what does a saber tooth tiger look likeSaber Tooth Tiger Anatomy, Teeth, and Tail

The modern cats and saber-toothed cats are distantly related although both are about the same size. Unlike tigers or lions, the saber-tooth cats had a robust built with forelegs slightly longer than its rear legs.

The prehistoric big cat doesn’t seem to resemble modern cats in the overall anatomy which is why scientists less likely to rely on tigers or lions for looking out to sabercats. Unlike modern cats, the saber-toothed tigers had short tail but wider limbs. Compared to tigers, Smilodon had short feet.

Prominent among the saber-toothed tigers is their ludicrously two long fangs one that can reach the size of 28 cm in S. populator—the biggest of the saber tooth cats. Lately however scientists have figured out that sabercats had a weaker bite force in spite of their long teeth.

Saber-toothed tigers had broader muzzle with deep cheek bones.

The smallest of the saber-toothed cats weighed around 55 to 100 kg whereas the bigger individuals would weigh at 200 to 400 kg, still the biggest saber tooth tiger weighed well over 1,040 kg.

They had a shoulder height estimated at 100 cm to 120 cm with the overall body size averaging at 17.6 to 19.2 cm in length.

What Does a Saber Tooth Tiger Look Like? – Video


Kaelin, C., Xu, X., Hong, L., David, V., McGowan, K., Schmidt-Küntzel, Roelke, M., Pino, J., Pontius, J., Cooper, G., Manuel, H., Swanson, W., Marker, L., Harper, C., van dyk, A., Yue, B., Mullikin, J., Warren, W., Eizirik, E., Kos, L., O’Brien, S., Barsh, G., Menotti-Raymon, M. 2012. Specifying and sustaining pigmentation patterns in domestic and wild catsScience. doi: 10.1126/science.1220893

Sorkin, B. (2008). “A biomechanical constraint on body mass in terrestrial mammalian predators”. Lethaia. 41 (4): 333–347. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.2007.00091.x.

Turner, A.; Antón, M. (1997). The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives: An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History. Columbia University Press. pp. 57–58, 67–68. ISBN 978-0-231-10229-2. OCLC 34283113.

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Extinction Facts, Date, Year, Causes

saber tooth tiger extinction
A Smilodon angles to get a better bite on a sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SWITEK.

Let me take you back to Ice Age, 1.8 million years ago when the whole world was witnessing surprisingly huge yet wonderful beasts. Giant sloths, American lions, rhinoceroses, saber tooth tigers are just a few. No wonder they had roamed the North and South America before even humans moved here. Sadly perhaps currently there are less than half of those giant species surviving in the wild. But saber tooth tigers aren’t one of these fortunate living creatures—they just didn’t make it.

Archaeologists believe that saber tooth cats would still be here if humans hadn’t arrived on the scene. If the starvation didn’t cause saber-toothed cats to vanish off the earth then what did? What about the animals that went extinct before humans showed up? When did saber tooth tigers become extinct? During Ice Age? Why? Perhaps it’s time to dig out some facts. The article is an attempt to answer all these lingering questions so we know precisely if humans are behind saber tooth tiger extinction as they’ll likely could.

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction Facts

saber tooth tiger extinction
A Smilodon angles to get a better bite on a sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SWITEK.

When Did Saber Tooth Tigers Become Extinct?

Until recently scientists have long assumed that the saber tooth tiger extinction began as early as 300,000 years ago. Later, many paleontologists followed the same theory and thought that this was the time when saber tooth tiger actually became extinct. However, this theory has been rejected in 2002 when scientists unearthed jawbone one that was hidden underneath the bottom of North Sea.

Scientists are pretty sure that the saber tooth tiger (Smilodon fatalis) had lived much longer than we previously anticipated. These big cats have been around hundreds of thousands of years longer—as recently as 28,000 years ago.

Saber-toothed cats were the biggest of all terrestrial carnivores inhabiting Late Pleistocene epoch still the cat had died out in the Quaternary period—during which many other megafaunal species had disappeared too. The last of the Smilodon had vanished off some 10,000 years ago. While the cause(s) of the saber tooth tiger extinction is still under debate paleontologists proposed quite many theories in an attempt to describe the big cat’s extinction.

saber tooth tiger extinction
This jawbone from the scimitar cat Homotherium was recovered from the North Sea.

Why Did Saber Tooth Tigers Become Extinct? – Top Four Most Probable Reasons for the Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction

While many theories have been proposed to get to the root cause of saber tooth tiger extinction scientists do believe that the probable causes of their disappearance in the ice age could be; the climate change, human activity, lack of prey, or maybe the combination of all three.

“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.

  • Disappearance of Megaherivores
  • Harsh Climate During the Ice Age
  • Did the Rise in Temperature Possibly Cause the Extinction?
  • The Hyperdiseases Transmitted from Aboriginal Humans to Saber-toothed Tigers

i.) Disappearance of Megaherbivores—The Primary Prey of Saber-toothed Tiger

Many theorists proposed that the humans were probably involved in driving Smilodon to extinction in the first place. According to these scientists, humans killed megaherbivores on a massive scale eventually rendering the entire saber tooth tiger population redundant in their native habitat.

Paleontologists have found the evidence of human involvement in wiping out saber-toothed tiger. The fossils unearthed showed signs of embedded arrows as well as cut marks inside the cave paintings. Evidences such as this probably answers to the lingering questions about the saber tooth tiger extinction.

Not only did the human hunting cause the Smilodon to disappear—the great migration of African people could have contributed just as well. As humans traveled miles they became more skillful in hunting animals. Furthermore, the animals that later became the victims of human killing didn’t appear to have fear of humans. This fearless approach led them closer to humans and eventually extinction.

The theory of human-involvement didn’t get too much applause for it had many drawbacks. One, humans never relied exclusively on megaherbivorous animals for they are the most adaptable species inhabiting earth. Second, there doesn’t seem to have any convincing argument in favor of human-driven-killing of mammoths, bisons, and mastodons.

saber tooth tiger extinction
The Pleistocene world was filled with megafauna like woolly mammoths and saber-tooth cats.
(Wikimedia Commons)

ii) Harsh Climate Change During an Ice Age

At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists tried to link saber tooth tiger extinction to the harsh climate change and other interglacial changes during the last ice age. However these findings just didn’t turn out to be veritable for it had quite many flaws. For instance, all those faunas that existed prior to the Pleistocene were very different from those that inhabited post terminal Pleistocene period especially with respect to their overall distribution and population explosion.

Nonetheless modern paleontologists also proposed that the climate change in America, Australia or Europe wasn’t really that dramatic as it was in Southeast Asia. That is, in Southeast Asia the climate change likely caused the extinction of numerous herbivores.

iii) Did Rise in Temperature Cause the Extinction?

Yes, it probably did! The most probable cause of ice age disappearance is likely to be the rise in temperature one that increased by 6 °C in the global annual temperature. The rise in temperature might have possibly led to the decline of the whole ice age much less saber-toothed cats.

iv) The Hyperdiseases May have Probably Caused the Extinction

During the Pleistocene period many aboriginal humans which used to travel with animals were believed to be infected with virulent diseases. Scientists believe that the massive ice age extinction is strongly linked to these disease. All these virulent disease were then transmitted from domestic animals to the more susceptible population of native mammals, eventually causing extinction.

All in all, humans played a key role (as they always do) in the extinction of saber tooth tigers because most carnivorous as well as megaherbivores were already there in large numbers before humans migrated to Eurasia or North America.

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Video


DeSantis, L. R. G.; Schubert, B. W.; Scott, J. R.; Ungar, P. S. (2012). “Implications of diet for the extinction of saber-toothed cats and American lions”. PLoS ONE. 7 (12): e52453. Bibcode:2012PLoSO…752453Ddoi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052453. PMC 3530457 . PMID 23300674.

Meachen-Samuels, J. A.; Van Valkenburgh, B. (2010). “Radiographs reveal exceptional forelimb strength in the sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis”. PLoS ONE. 5 (7): e11412. Bibcode:2010PLoSO…511412M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011412. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 2896400 . PMID 20625398.

O’Keefe, F.R.; Fet, E.V.; Harris, J.M. (2009). “Compilation, calibration, and synthesis of faunal and floral radiocarbon dates, Rancho La Brea, California”. Contributions to Science. 518: 1–16.

Demes B, Jungers WL, Selpien K (1991) Body size, locomotion, and long-bone cross-sectional geometry in indriid primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 86: 537–547.

Anto´n M, Galobart A´, Turner A (2005) Co-existence of scimitar-toothed cats, lions and hominins in the European Pleistocene. Implications of the post-cranial anatomy of Homotherium latidens (Owen) for comparative palaeoecology. Quaternary Science Reviews 24: 1287–1301.

Saber Tooth Tiger Facts  – Top 20 Most Amazing Facts

saber tooth tiger facts
Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall

The saber tooth tiger or Smilodon refers to the prehistoric big cat that had existed during the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. Scientists usually call them Smilodon although they are also called saber-toothed tiger precisely due to their protruding front canines extending out of their mouth. However tiger-like they may appear to you, Smilodon weren’t even closely related to modern day tigers or lions.

Scientists have recognized three subspecies of Smilodon. When we say ‘Saber-toothed cats’ we generally refer to all those predatory mammals that had the iconic front canines like Smildon. Lately, scientists assume that there could have more saber tooth tigers lived than we anticipated. Perhaps it’s time to dig out some of the most interesting and amazing saber tooth tiger facts.

Saber Tooth Tiger Facts – Teeth, Extinction, Pictures, and Physical Description

saber tooth tiger facts
Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall

20Saber tooth tigers were probably the biggest of all the ice age big cats. While it had two big seemingly strong canines which could reach the length of 11 inches scientists are still trying to understand as to how the cat used those extra tooth. Recent study indicates that saber tooth cats had a weak bite force in fact they would use their neck muscles to subdue their prey.

19Out of the three subspecies of saber tooth tiger the S. populator was probably the biggest. The smallest subspecies was S. gracilis whereas the S. fatalis thought be of medium size. The smallest Smilodon would reach the same size as a present-day jaguar.

18Saber tooth tigers had roamed around the land for as long as 42 million years with the last of the population vanished off the earth some 10,000 years ago.

17Paleontologists discovered saber-toothed tigers from South America, North America, and Central America.

See the two long canines that extends out of the Smilodon’s mouth even when it’s closed.

16The saber tooth tiger would make its habitat in plains and woodlands. They were thought to be ambush predators and so they probably lived around bushy plains and forested habitats one that could provide them cover against the prey.  

15The overall morphology as well as the skull of numerous saber tooth cats resembles clouded leopards existing today, according to scientists. In time, the bodies of big cats tuned out to be not only more robust—they also gained pretty powerful bite force.

14The S. gracilis is known to be the earliest of the saber tooth cats which had lived from 2.5 million years ago to 500,000 years ago.  

The Saber-Tooth Tiger. Daniel Reed

13Saber-toothed tigers had forelegs longer than their rear legs—forcing their entire body posture just a little higher. Unlike modern big cats, the Smilodon had much shorter tail. Since S. populator is the largest subspecies it has longest canines too—reaching up to 28 cm (11 in) in length.  

12The estimated weight of the S. gracilis is about 55 to 100 kg (120 to 220 lb—the smallest of the saber-toothed cats. However, the S. populator, the biggest of the Smilodon weighed as much as 880 pounds.

11Scientists are just not sure if saber-toothed tigers were social. Making this worse, the modern-day big cats aren’t really helpful as analogs.

Saber-toothed tiger is an ambush hunter.

10Studies suggest that the saber-toothed tiger had smaller brain in comparison to the present-day big cats. This fact coupled with a few others forced scientists to believe that the big cat would not be social animal at all.

9Young saber tooth tigers would reach their maximum size at 3 years age. The prominent canines continue to grow 7 mm per month for the first 12 months following birth.

8Compared to modern day big cats, saber tooth tigers had weaker bites—only as third powerful as the lion’s bite according to Smithsonian.

7The Smilodon wasn’t the fast runner unlike many big cats living today. Instead it stalked its prey from behind the bushes to attack and knock its prey using strong neck muscles.

Saber tooth tiger skull

6Scientists are quite sure that the saber tooth tiger wasn’t the only saber-toothed cat around. There could have been many animals that occurred during the ice age.

5A new study suggests that it was pretty tough for saber tooth cats to subdue the prey. They would suffer some severe injuries to their lower backs and shoulders as a result.

4Earlier scientists proposed that the Smilodon could have possibly died due to its long fangs. As the cat grows so as its teeth preventing its mouth to open and so they starved to death. Later, this idea was rejected.

3Saber tooth tigers are thought to be social and they also hunted in groups, a new study suggests.

2Like modern lions or tigers, saber tooth tiger were also carnivores. They would feed on quite many number of herbivorous grazing mammals. The smilodon’s diet includes young mammoths, bison, camels, and mastodons.

1The last of the saber tooth tiger population died out 8,000 years ago.  

Saber Tooth Tiger Facts – Video

Saber Tooth Tiger Size – How Big were Saber Tooth Tigers?

saber tooth tiger size
Dantheman9758 / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 3.0]

Saber tooth tigers (Smilodon) were just about the size of modern-day big cats except for slight variation that is the saber tooth cat’s protruding front teeth as well as robust built body. Scientists have recognized three subspecies of saber-tooth cats namely: S. fatalis, S. populator, and S. gracilis. While S. gracilis thought to be the smallest subspecies the S. populator is ranked as the biggest saber tooth tiger ever existed. This article is all about the saber tooth tiger size in comparison to the modern-day lions or tigers.

Saber Tooth Tiger Size – How Big were Saber Tooth Tigers?

saber tooth tiger size
Dantheman9758 / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 3.0]

Saber Tooth Tiger Subspecies

Saber tooth tigers are probably the most popular of the prehistoric cats yet it is curious that how little information about them is available. Even more surprising is that scientists haven’t been able to comprehend about the sexual dimorphism of saber tooth cats. A few studies however suggest that unlike modern-day cats there wasn’t seemed to be any significant variation in the male and female’s size.

Size of S. gracilis

The S. gracilis would be the smallest of all saber tooth cats reaching the maximum weight of only 100 kilograms. But most individuals weighed in between 55 and 100 kg (120 – 220 lb). They were about the size of modern day jaguars.

Size of S. fatalis

S. fatalis was believed to be neither too big nor too small. It was smaller than the S. populator but definitely bigger than the S. gracilis. The adults would reach a shoulder height of 100 cm (39 in) with the overall body length estimated at 175 cm (69 in). It weighed at 60 to 280 kg (350 to 620 lb). The S. fatalis likely reached the size of lions but they had much bigger and robust body mass as compared to lions.

Size of S. populator

Perhaps the biggest of all saber tooth tigers was the S. populator. It is known to be the largest of all felids ever walked on earth. The S. populator had a body mass estimated at 220 to 400 kg (490 to 880 lb). A few records claim that the adults would reach the weight of 470 (1,040 lb).

Saber Tooth Tiger Size – Video


Karina Vanesa Chichkoyan, Borja Figueirido, Margarita Belinchón, José Luis Lanata, Anne-Marie Moigne and Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, Direct evidence of megamammal-carnivore interaction decoded from bone marks in historical fossil collections from the Pampean region, PeerJ5,(e3117), (2017).

Sorkin, B. (2008). “A biomechanical constraint on body mass in terrestrial mammalian predators“. Lethaia. 41 (4): 333–347. doi:10.1111/j.1502-3931.2007.00091.x.

Christiansen, Per; Harris, John M. (2005). “Body size of Smilodon (Mammalia: Felidae)“. Journal of Morphology. 266 (3): 369–84. doi:10.1002/jmor.10384. PMID 16235255.