New research indicates adolescent offspring of the menacing sabre-toothed predator, Smilodon fatalis, were more momma’s cubs than independent warriors.
A new study by scientists at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and University of Toronto, published January 7, 2021 in iScience¸ documents a family group of the sabre-toothed cats whose remains were discovered in present-day Ecuador. By studying the fossils, collected for the ROM in the early 1960s, the scientists were able to show that while the supersized Ice Age cats grew quite quickly, they also appeared to stay with their mother for longer than some other large cats before forging their own path.
“This study started out as a simple description of previously unpublished fossils,” says Ashley Reynolds, a graduate student based at the Royal Ontario Museum who led the study while completing her PhD research in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto. “But when we noticed the two lower jaws we were working on shared a type of tooth only found in about five percent of the Smilodon fatalis population, we knew the work was about to become much more interesting.”
Encouraged by this new discovery, the researchers dug deeper and found that they were likely looking at three related individuals: one adult and two “teenaged” cats. What’s more, they were able to determine that the younger cats were at least two years old at the time of their death, an age at which some living big cats, such as tigers, are already independent.