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Most depictions of saber-tooth cats show the animals always displaying their big canine teeth. That wasn’t always the case, though, according to a new study.
Scientists found that at least one species of the extinct predator did not sport its sharp teeth in the open, the New York Times reported.
The paper focused on the Homotherium latidens species, an extinct large feline that emerged about four million years ago before dying out around 10,000 years ago.
Study author Mauricio Antón explained that it was one of the most common saber-tooth cats on the planet and the most powerful: It was the size of a lion and had three-inch-long, scimitar-shaped, serrated upper canines.
Past studies – and illustrations – posited that the saber-tooth species usually bared its canines.
However, Antón and his colleagues looked closely at the teeth of modern big cats and analyzed ancient saber-tooth fossil remains. They concluded that the lower lip and soft tissue couldn’t accommodate the animal’s upper canines. Instead, the serrated teeth were hidden within the enclosed part of the jaw.
Anton’s team said the findings could revamp artistic interpretations of the Homotherium and spark more research on other saber-tooth species.
Meanwhile, while the Homotherium could conceal its weapons, another species couldn’t: The 900-pound Smidolon fatalis was equipped with teeth six inches in length that no jaw could accommodate.