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Microwear on Canines and Killing Behavior in Large Carnivores: Saber Function in Smilodon fatalis

William Anyonge
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1382786 1059-1067 First published online: 15 November 1996


Canids and hyaenids display a high density of features of microwear on canine teeth that reflect their similarity in killing strategy. However, hyaenids tend to have a higher percentage of short and wide features (pits) because of the high percentage of bone in their diet. Canines of felids display relatively fewer features than canids and hyaenids, which suggest that felids apprehend prey by delivering deep, strong bites that result in less abrasion of the canines. I suggest that canids rely more heavily on their canines and incisors for feeding than do felids. Smilodon fatalis, a large saber-tooth cat from the Pleistocene of North America, is similar to living felids in having relatively few features of canines, but differs from cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and African lions (Panthern leo) in having relatively more pits. S. fatalis showed no consistent similarity in features of microwear on canine teeth to six large carnivores (leopard, Panthera pardus; cheetah; African lion; spotted hyaena, Crocuta crocuta; African wild dog, Lycaon pictus; gray wolf, Canis lupus), which suggests that its killing behavior and possibly dietary preference differed from modern predators. S. fatalis may have avoided contact with bone during killing and feeding encounters, which caused fewer features to form on the upper canines.

Key words
  • Smilodon
  • saber-tooth cat
  • Plio-Pleistocene
  • canine
  • microwear