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

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

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

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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here