Monday, December 21, 2009


Better-known as the saber-tooth tiger, the extinct Smilodon (whichi was not actually a tiger) lived in North and South America as recently as 12,000 years ago. It weighed up to 880 pounds and had retractable claws, but is best known for its large canine teeth (although there is some question whether these made Smilodon a feline can opener or whether its bite strength left it a pussycat). They preyed on bison, deer, horses, American camels, and ground sloths, but could not tackle adult mammoths or mastodons - unless they were already trapped in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. This site in the heart of Los Angeles, California, is one of the most famous sources of Pleistocene fossils, with the largest and most diverse assemblage of Ice Age plants and animals. There are more than 100 tar pits on the 23-acre site and excavation is ongoing. Pit 91, in particular, has yielded 327 saber-tooth cat bones, including 5 skulls - 3 of them in 1998, after I visited in the early 1990s. You can see the fossils, life-sized replicas of the animals, and new finds being cleaned and repaired at the associated Page Museum. And if you would like a replica Smilodon skull to grace your shelf, click here.

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