Lack of food 'not behind extinction of Saber-toothed cats 12,000 years ago'
Saber-toothed cats and American lions were not driven to extinction by lack of food, a new study has revealed.
When prey is scarce, large carnivores may gnaw prey to the bone, wearing their teeth down in the process.
A new analysis of the teeth of saber-toothed cats and American lions found that they did not resort to this behaviour just before extinction, suggesting that lack of prey was probably not the main reason these large cats became extinct.
Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University and colleagues compared tooth wear patterns from the fossil cats that roamed California 12,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The saber-toothed cat and American lion were among the largest terrestrial carnivores that lived during their time, and went extinct along with other large animals approximately 12,000 years ago.
Previous studies have suggested many reasons for this extinction, including a changing climate, human activity and competition from humans and other animals for food, which may have grown scarce as a result of these changes.
In the current study, the researchers found that saber-toothed cats likely consumed carcass bones regularly, but found no differences in bone consumption between older fossils and more recent ones.
Based on this, they suggest that the cats' diet did not change significantly near the time they became extinct. In contrast, American lions did not consume much bone even near extinction, and had tooth-wear patterns similar to cheetahs, who actively avoid bone in their prey.
"Tooth wear patterns suggest that these cats were not desperately consuming entire carcasses, as was expected, and instead seemed to be living the 'good life' during the late Pleistocene, at least up until the very end," said DeSantis.
The results were published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.