Category Archives: Sabertoothed cats

The Evolution of Cats: 6: Nimravides and the Metailurini

It’s time to look at “the other sabertooths.”

Some of them are also called “false sabertooths.” (Antón)

Whether false or true, these now-extinct animals are giving scientists useful insights into the world of sabertoothed cats.

You probably haven’t heard of them.

Everybody knows Smilodon – the California state fossil and star of Ice Age. Quite a few laypeople recognize the name of Homotherium, too.

homotherium-profile
Homotherium’s teeth weren’t as long as Smilodon’s and it had a lighter build.

We met both of these and other popular sabertoothed cats last time.

But hardly anyone outside the Paleontology Department’s “cat” section has ever heard of Nimravides or the Metailurini.

As one noted geoscientist puts it:
“I am fond of saying that a geologist writes like a person overcoming very grave reservations. This is because no geologist can operate as an earth historian without continuously doubting such opinions—regardless of the accuracy of the observations upon which they are based. The realization of our uncertainty makes us uneasy, as does knowing that our explanations of the past are not more true, but only more plausible, than the stories told by creationists, extraterrestrialists, and other seers.” (Van Couvering)

When talking about fossil cats, paleontologists still have many “grave reservations” to overcome.

Very few of those issues came up last time, when we checked out the Homotheriini and the Smilodontini.

smilodon-cope
Smilodon, as the 19th century saw it.  This fossil sabertooth is still wildly popular in the 21st century.

Those sabertooths get a lot of attention from the public as well as researchers, and paleontologists have researched them in great detail. (Werdelin and others)
However, the two tribes weren’t the only toothy big cats around during the Miocene epoch and the Plio-Pleistocene ice ages.

No history of feline evolution is complete without mention of:

  • Nimravides. Long-legged and the size of a modern lion (Hunt, 2004), this was a mysterious North American saber-cat.
  • The Metailurini. Part sabertooth, part “normal” cat, these predators had a much wider range than Nimravides. Some of them were the most common Pliocene felids in Africa. (Werdelin and Dehghani)
632px-metailurus_metailurus_major_asenovgrad2
Metailurus is nowhere near as charismatic as Smilodon, but scientists are very curious about this cougar-like Miocene cat.  Was it a sabertooth or not?

 

Aside from the occasional complete skeleton, most of the other sabertooth fossils are fragments that can be interpreted in different ways. (Turner and Antón)

Of course this leads to lots of scientific controversy.

Yet the basic facts about Nimravides and the Metailurini are clear enough.

Both cat groups developed around the same time as the early members of the Homotheriini and Smilodontini. Then they coexisted with the two tribes for millions of years.

Nimravides didn’t make it out of the Miocene epoch (Werdelin and others), but the last member of the Metailurini died relatively recently, during the second half of the Pleistocene. (Werdelin and Dehghani)

All of them were very successful predators, and here is their story, as far as researchers have been able to outline it to date.

Continue reading The Evolution of Cats: 6: Nimravides and the Metailurini

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