Its massive teeth grew at an astonishing rate -- but they weren't fully grown until the cat was three years old.
A new study has found that the saber-toothed tiger was like a “lion on steroids” and its large dagger-like canine teeth grew at an incredibly rapid rate — but weren’t fully grown until the creature was at least three years old.
The massive canines of the saber-toothed tiger, which died out about 10,000 years ago during the Ice Age and lived about the time the mammoths, grew at twice the rate as that of the African lion of the modern day, according to a Reuters report.
Scientists used X-ray imaging and an analysis of the oxygen isotopes found in the tooth enamel to come to the conclusion that the Smilodon fatalis — one of three known species of saber-toothed tigers — had seven-inch teeth that grew at a rate of about a quarter of an inch per month, according to the findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Why did this giant, ancient cat need such ferocious weapons? It is thought that these fangs would have enabled the cat to bury its teeth into the necks of prey — or even enemies — slashing through arteries and causing a quick death.
The saber-toothed tiger was certainly a force to be reckoned with in its day. Although it had a similar size as today’s lion or tiger, it had a much heavier build and a very stiff next, making it like a “lion on steroids,” as described by paleontologist Z. Jack Tseng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, according to the report.
Scientists used remains pulled from the La Brea Tar Pits found in Los Angeles. These tar pits are excellent repositories of information on Ice Age creatures, as many got stuck within them and had their remains preserved all these years. Saber-toothed tigers were probably drawn to the pits due to the struggling prey, but it sometimes meant they themselves became stuck.
Scientists also believe that Smilodon first grew out baby teeth that fell out at about one and a half years of age before the permanent, giant canines came in, finally stopping their growth at about three to three and a half years of age.