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Punctured Skulls On Saber-Toothed Cats Show They Viciously Fought Each Other With Bone-Penetrating Fangs

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Images A and C show the punctures on the saber-toothed cat skulls. Image B shows how the creatures' iconic teeth fit perfectly into the skull punctures.   ( Chimento, Angolin, et al. | General Paleontology, Systematics, and Evolution )

Perhaps the most iconic feature of saber-toothed cats are their long, iconic fangs. They disappeared thousands of years ago, but we are still learning just how vicious these creatures truly are.

Iconic Fangs

There is debate regarding the true strength of saber-toothed cats’ iconic fangs. One of the theories suggest that the 11-inch (28-centimeter) fangs were actually fragile, and that the creatures’ bites were weak. In this theory, the extreme fangs were merely used once the saber-toothed cat has already brought its prey down and would have to bite down on its soft neck.

But were the iconic cats’ fangs really as weak and vulnerable as the theory suggests? In a new study, researchers present evidence that not only did the saber-toothed cats engage in fights with one another, but that their fangs were actually strong enough to pierce bone.

Puncture Marks

Researchers of a new study present saber-toothed cat skulls with puncture marks that are slightly elliptical in shape. In both skulls, the punctures are located between the eyes, with evidence suggesting that pressure was exerted. Interestingly, one of the skulls presented signs of healing, meaning that the creature still lived for quite some time after the injury.

The holes, however, did not match the teeth of any other predators of the time such as bears, and nor did they match the claws of any other creatures. Researchers note that it is possible, although unlikely, that the puncture came from the kick of a hoofed animal, but what is interesting is that the marks perfectly matched the size and contours of the saber-toothed cats’ fangs.

Bone-Penetrating Bite

This means that the likeliest cause of the punctures is the strong bite of another saber-toothed cat. If this is so, then contrary to the theory which describes saber-toothed cats’ fangs to be vulnerable and weak, they are actually strong enough to pierce bone.

According to the researchers, this suggests that perhaps the ancient predators engaged in fights among them, just like modern day felines do. In fact, panthers, leopards, cheetahs, and pumas have also been observed with similar injuries, often from violent encounters between creatures.

The study is published in Comptes Rendus Palevol.

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