Y: Don, Guess what? It’s Felix’s birthday! Look at these photos: here he is as a kitten, and here he is now!
D: Whoa, he’s furry! And huge, Yaël.
Y: That’s because he’s a Maine Coon, the largest domesticated cat breed. I always wanted a big cat.
D: Sure, Felix is large for an everyday feline. But you should be thankful you don’t have a Smilodon populator walking around your living room! That’s the name for the biggest species of one of the biggest cats of all time: the saber-toothed tiger.
Y: I can’t say I’ve ever worried about a saber-toothed tiger in my house. After all, they lived in South America in the Pleistocene. They’re notable, of course, for their giant, deadly fangs. Though you’re right—Smilodon populator were big, around twice the size of an African lion.
D: And that may be on the small side! A recent study examined one of the creature’s skulls. It was sixteen inches long—the largest saber-toothed tiger skull ever found in the Americas. Scientists were able to use the skull to guess the size of the body. They determined that this particular cat weighed in at 960 pounds!
Y: Yikes. That thing could eat me in one gulp!
D: You’d be a measly snack. Unlike today’s big cats, which can’t hunt prey much larger than they are, this saber-toothed tiger might have hunted megafauna that weighed up to three tons. Truck-size armadillos, mastadons, the twelve-foot-tall ground sloth—all fair game. But researchers aren’t sure if many saber-toothed tigers were this big, or if this specimen is an outlier.
Y: Either way, Felix doesn’t seem like such a big pet anymore.