Anonymous asked in Science & MathematicsBiology · 8 years ago

How did sabre-tooth tigers use their long canines?

So I was watching a programme on pleistocene animals such as dire wolves and sabre-tooths, and it was showing some differences in the wolf hunting techniques. It got me wondering about how the sabre-tooths hunted, and more specifically, how they use their large characteristic maxillary canines. I know how evolution would favour longer, sharper teeth for killing prey, however I don't understand how the sabres would work, since surely they are too long to be effective in biting with regards to the amount the jaw can open.

I read a couple of articles suggesting they could be used to pierce deeper blood vessels or be more useful on larger prey, but I can't find anything definite on the method of using the teeth - biting? slashing? Or were they actually for aggression/dominance towards other cats?

Any thoughts would be appreciated

2 Answers

  • 8 years ago
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    A National Geographic program had a guy do research on it. Since most of the skulls are found with the canines intact, not broken, they had to have been used in a way that had them not hit bone. Hitting bone would snap a tooth off (as anyone with a dog or cat who's hit their teeth wrong can attest).

    He looked at the strength of the muscles in the head/neck (estimated by where the muscle scars were where they attached to the skull) and the gape of the lower jaw (which is relatively weak, the muscles only worked the top of the jaw with the neck) and how the bodies were built (short, stubby, very muscled but not made for running) and came up with what the overall 'package' would work best as.

    They hunted in groups - old tigers with broken leg bones and skull fractures lived long enough to heal them, which means group hunting was in force, a scavenger of this size would need meat to heal which they would not be able to get if they were injured. The sabre tooths were in competition with the American Lion which was larger than it was, as well as at least two types of giant bears.

    They could not chew off huge chunks of meat - the long canines blocked the ability to dig in to the meat source, the canines couldn't get out of the way to let the side chewing teeth in too deep so they had to be working with areas away from bone for their food supply - on large animals that would be the body cavity and the legs, not the entire animal that today's lions and tigers eat.

    They were not built for long distance running - so they hid and ambushed. Some may have been 'drivers' herding the prey to the hiding spot - therefore the group dynamics were important.

    The kill would be done by using a paw to trip the prey (wolves and cheetahs do this) rather than jumping on them and grabbing the neck to bring an animal down. Unless the neck was long enough to allow the teeth to go in without hitting the back bone (again, breakage of the teeth, they are not sturdy with side to side motions, just stabbing straight in motions). Belly strikes with the canines would work easier. Something the scientist demonstrated with a jury rigged machine.

    He'd taken the skull and teeth as a model, did up one with teeth geared to break the same way normal fangs would break on a sabertooth, and had a scissors motion working with the head and the lower jaw. He took a cow carcasse, tried it on the neck and had difficulty having a clean slice through the windpipe and neck structure. However the SAME motion done on the belly of the cow below the rib cage ended up with major trauma wounds to the dead animal and had the teeth slice through without damage to the teeth or blocking of the lower jaw. On a live animal it would have been fatal.

    He speculated that with group hunting, the ambush would trip the animal, several would leap on with at least one giving a stabbing slice into the abdomen, then all the tigers could back off the wounded animal, wait for the animal to go down in shock (which would take only minutes) and eat without injury. Even one slice into the abdomen would do it.

    Lions hold onto the nose or neck and suffocate a zebra, or bite through the spinal cord at the back of the head. Canines as long as what the saber tooth had would not allow this move.

  • 8 years ago

    The main action of tiger bite is to bite its prey's trachea ( wind pipe ) & collapse so that the prey cannot breathe & results in its death.

    Probably in its time,there must have been some type of herbivores which might have had very thick neck & in order to reach its wind pipe & smother it,the sabre toothed needed such an arrangement.

    Source(s): Biological logic.
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