The Story of Saberteeth

Smilodon was a fearsome Ice Age cat, the size of a modern-day tiger, that had a pair of fangs nearly 18 centimeters long. But it was only the last and largest of the great sabertooths: ridiculously long canines had already been a trend for millions of years by the time Smilodon was prowling around. And you know what? Those giant teeth just might make a comeback.

Correction: At 4:22, we incorrectly use an image of a sand tiger shark in reference to a great white shark. We regret the error.

Produced in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios:

Want to follow Eons elsewhere on the internet?
Facebook –
Twitter –
Instagram –

Just what is a Nimravid, anyway?

21 Replies

  1. E Unit Reply

    You left out all of the saber toothed marsupials Thylacosmilus of south america which directly competed with the saber toothed cats of north america after the formation of the isthmus of panama

  2. don bod Reply

    I can't wrap my mind around how sabretooth cat bit anything… can their bottom jaw extend passed the sabretooth? And how much space inbetween the sabretooth and bottom canine? Then, at that width was their bite force exceptinally powerful? Ah need answers!

  3. Synyster Baits Reply

    can we get a video on the megafauna in africa and middle east region during the ice age 🙂 , i am so curious what animals were down there in the warmer climate, what was it like? foresty? coastal? wide open or close and rugged, so many questions! 😀 😀

  4. Pierre LeDouche Reply

    Interesting and informative, as always. However, I'd like to gently correct you on one point. All cats, big and small, kill in one of two ways of which the throttling throat bite described in this video is only one. The other is the nape bite, which actually displaces the vertebrae and severs the spinal cord, or penetrates the skull itself. There is also a third method, related to the first, and that's biting on the snout of an animal, keeping both the nasal passages and mouth closed resulting in suffocation. Which method used depends a lot on the animal being killed. Really huge prey is almost always dispatched via suffocation. Smaller prey, and prey with teeth enabling them to bite back (think baboons) are usually dispatched with a nape bite. Lions and tigers use all methods, but prey size means they usually suffocate. Cheetahs do not have strong enough jaws or teeth to perform nape bites on larger prey, so they too usually use suffocation. Leopards are virtuosos of the nape bite, well evidenced in the fossil record by primate and early human skulls with characteristic bite holes in them. Cougars also frequently use the nape bite when killing people (in the rare event that happens). Though leopards and cougars are versatile cats who use both methods. Smaller cats like servals and bobcats usually hunt prey far smaller than themselves, so use of suffocation bites amongst the smaller cats is almost zero. Though anyone watching immature smaller cats play will see them practicing both nape and throat bites, so the latter is presumably still in their repertoire. Interestingly enough, the stoat–a small weasel for those who don't live in the UK–also kills rabbits with a nape bite, though the rabbit might be four or five times the stoat's size. A remarkable predator.

    As far as how the saber-toothed cats used those long teeth, the best explanation I've seen is in the book The Natural History of the Wild Cats by Andrew Kitchener, which incidentally is the single best and most readable survey of cats and their evolution I've ever read. In that book Kitchener points out that, along with that impressive upper jaw, the saber-toothed cats usually had small and underdeveloped bottom jaws and teeth, and the jaw could open to 90 degrees or more. The jaw muscles were likewise relatively small and weak as well. The burly cats would pounce and wrestle their prey to the ground, bite down on their prey's neck or throat, then use their huge neck and shoulder muscles to drive the teeth into the animal. It goes without saying that this was an adaptation for killing really huge animals, whose blood vessels and other vitals were deeper in the body than with smaller prey. Modern lions and tigers have a difficult time killing elephants, though the saber-toothed cats probably exclusively hunted megafauna and could probably dispatch a modern elephant without a problem. Once the megafauna were gone from North America, so went the last of the saber-toothed cats.

  5. PhilosoFeed Reply

    I haven't been getting my fair share of vlogbrothers lately. I love Hank in this series 🙂

  6. pivot Reply

    how did mammals like pangolins and armadillos evolve their armour?

  7. Yana Lizaveta Reply

    Can you do one on the thylacine, with marsupials?

  8. Ant Reply

    These babies got me hella hide and chitin.

  9. Brian Button Reply

    I doubt if this is in your bailiwick but . . .
    . . . I would really like to hear the case for theories of extinctions of large mammals in Eurasia, Australia and America. Mass extinctions coincide with human arrival in these continents but there is considerable static about attributing these to man. Frustratingly, the other theories I have heard ("there was climate change") don't explain. We have a pattern of behavior — we can prove homo sapiens eliminated many species in many places — we have overwhelming circumstantial evidence — our arrival coincided with the extinctions — and moderate direct evidence — mass kill sites. Other theories don't explain.
    Why do scientists waffle on this theory so carefully?

  10. Ghastly Grinner Reply

    Well the truth is we really dont know what killed off the Ice Age megafauna

  11. Mikhail Plungis Reply

    I adore and cherish this channel ^^ More Permian stem-mammals please!

  12. sharkfinbite Reply

    I think the saber tooth wasn't that fragile. I think it was more similar in strength to modern normal large cats'. The reason why you see it breaking is because there is more mass and length being shoved in its prey's flesh. The prey it hunted was NOT push overs. They were strong and tough. Sabertooth cats were made to fill the niche of hunting the more top tier heavier game that was around. This means they had to struggle and fight this thing while their teeth were moving inside it. This could explain why they find their teeth being broken. The teeth were handling the stress of stronger game than we are used to back then. I am pretty darn sure if you make any of the current large cats canines longer and put it under the same conditions of stress they went through it might break too. Not only were these teeth dealing with this issue stress from prey moving but also another problem too. I am surmising just like during the bronze, and stone age, people did not tend to make their blade too long out of fear of the blade becoming unable to handle the stress of a certain length range that they'll actually break off at the edge, so do large cat's teeth face the potential same hazard. I think they had about the same strength wise as a normal modern large cat but they were putting them the limits of what a tooth be at a certain length without it breaking so easily. Chances it was already surpassing the range of tolerance . I say this because I looked at an image online of it fangs and.. they do not look that thin or flimsy. (This was from a skull image.) I mean it looks thicker than a normal modern cat's. I don't think they were they flimsy. They were just taking on prey that were able to give much stress and power to dish out than our modern animals. These cats obviously show they evolved to have thicker teeth to handle the stress better but it was till not there yet.