The name Smilodon comes from the Greek words for “blade” and “tooth.” Saber-toothed cats used their sharp, curved canines to stab and tear into the flesh of their prey.

The fossils of over 2,000 saber-toothed cats, including this one, have been found in the La Brea tar pits.

During the ice ages, people foraged for roots, nuts, and fruits. We also fished and hunted small and large game, even mastodons. Sometimes we were prey for large predators—perhaps even the saber-toothed cat to your right. Today, we are the top predators, and we change the ecosystems we live in to meet our needs.

Saber-toothed cats preyed on large herbivores (plant eaters), like bison—and maybe even on humans. Humans hunted animals large and small, and foraged for nuts and fruits. Fungi and microbes decomposed dead matter into soil nutrients. And just as they do today, plants thrived on these nutrients and the sun’s energy.


  • Title: Saber-toothed cat (composite)
  • Location: Palos Verde Sand Formation, Los Angeles Co., California
  • Physical Dimensions: L: 157 cm W: 74 cm H: 88 cm
  • Type: Fossil
  • Rights: This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws. http://www.si.edu/termsofuse
  • External Link: View this object record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center
  • USNM Catalog Number(s): V10928
  • Scientific Name: <i>Smilodon fatalis</i>
  • Photo Credit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
  • Historic Period: Lived 1.8 million–12,000 years ago
  • Geologic Age: Cenozoic - Quaternary
  • Field: Paleobiology

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