Smilodon-Fatalis

It’s a fanged Fossil Friday! 

Smilodon fatalis lived in North and South America until going extinct about 10,000 years ago. About the size of a modern tiger or lion but bulkier, the cats are famous for their protruding canines, which could grow to be 18 centimeters (about 7 inches) long. Although well-preserved fossils of these cats are available to researchers—including those in the Museum’s own collection—little is known about the absolute ages at which the animals reached key developmental stages. 

New research published this week shows that the fearsome teeth of the saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis grew at a rate about double that of their living relatives, but still took years to fully emerge. The study estimates that the eruption rate of S. fatalis’s permanent upper canines was 6 millimeters per month—double the growth rate of an African lion’s teeth. But the extinct cat’s dagger-like canines weren’t fully developed until about three years of age.

“For predators such as big cats, an important determinant of an individual’s full hunting ability is the time required to grow their weapons—their teeth,” said Z. Jack Tseng, a National Science Foundation and Frick Postdoctoral Fellow in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology and a coauthor on the new paper. “This is especially crucial for understanding sabertoothed predators such as Smilodon.”

Read more about this new study

Prowlers in the Yard!

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Fatalis: A Novel by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have read this book twice now and without doubt the first reading was more exhilarating than the second. Not that Jeff Rovin isn’t a good action-horror writer; by all means he is. It’s just that his ‘Fatalis’ failed to bring the kind of scientific logic required to make this re-emergence of the extinct carnivore, Smilodon Fatalis aka Saber Tooth Cat theory plausible. His attempt to explain how these massive cats woke up from a forced ice age hibernating stupor after 11,000 years, was too simple for my liking; especially when I read the book the second time. His 'Cryogenics’ hypothesis was glaringly light.

However, putting the scientific logic aside and looking from purely visceral level, Fatalis does have its moments. I particularly liked Rovin’s description of the pre-historic cats’ military style hunting tactics. If it truly was the way they hunted, then these cats were more than just savage beasts but a highly evolved social group with an advanced intelligence to overturn today’s mankind dominated world should they had survived extinction. That notion is quite intriguing indeed. Nonetheless, for a species of this kind to have vanished along with the mastodon, mammoth and giant sloth, to name a few during the ice age, tells that they were mere beasts who couldn’t adapt and thus died out while man managed to survive. Therefore, Jeff Rovin’s Smilodon Fatalis was more of a pre-historic creature built on creative imagination. They were a species that at the time of writing was perhaps lesser known than we do today I reckon. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. We need imagination and Rovin brings quite a lot of that to this book.

Overall, the storyline and plotting were commendable though the characters were one dimensional; but that was okay because the central attraction were the Saber Tooth Cats and their instinctive pursuits first and foremost. All said, 'Fatalis’ was a fun book to read (twice and no more) and even though it wasn’t the spine-chilling horror as I would have liked, it kept me engrossed throughout anyway. Apart from the rather vague realism factor, the book wasn’t all that bad.

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