Buenos Aires, Jan 11 (EFE).- The nearly complete 10,000-year-old skeleton of a South American saber-toothed tiger, the largest feline ever to live on the planet, have been found during house construction work in Argentina, the team of paleontologists who unearthed the remains told EFE on Wednesday.
After construction workers found the cranium on Jan. 3 in the Buenos Aires town of Necochea, a group of seven paleontologists began examining it, noting the iconic saber-like fangs more than 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) long along with hypertrophied canine teeth and the fossilized remains of two “paws” and the spinal column.
“It’s possible that we’ve got one of the most complete sets of saber-toothed tiger remains ever found here in this area,” in the Argentine “pampas” (grasslands) and along the coast of Buenos Aires province, the curator of the paleontology collection at the Lorenzo Scaglia Municipal Museum of Natural Sciences, Matias Taglioretti, told EFE.
Saber-toothed tigers – the scientific name for which is Smilodon populator – were the largest known felines ever to roam the Earth, growing much larger than lions or tigers today because their prey during the last Ice Age were gigantic animals themselves, weighing more than a ton and grouped into the category of megafauna.
The saber-toothed cats were solitary hunters that lay in wait for their prey and sprang upon it or gave brief chase to it when it came within range. The earlier members of the species were more robust than the later ones, and their bone structure and musculature were such that they were not adapted for long chases but rather simply seized their prey by the neck with their jaws and – like modern big cats – cut off their air supply.
When the large animals they preyed upon became extinct, these cats also died out.
Upon finding the skeleton, which was found 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) underground, Taglioretti said that this appears to be a “rather modern individual” that “could be about 10,000 years old,” and thus – if that estimate is confirmed – it “could have lived alongside the first (human) inhabitants of the Pampas region.”
What makes the find of this particular set of remains “attractive” is that the specimen seems to be a complete skeleton, although only the front portion of the body has been uncovered so far. In addition, it is relatively rare to find the remains of an apex carnivore, although finding fossilized bones of assorted herbivores – which roamed the ancient landscape in far greater numbers – is much more common, Taglioretti said.