STL Science Center

STL Science Center

30 September 2011

Welcome to the Cenozoic!

To be exact, welcome to the Cenozoic period's Pleistocene epoch. Here we find many recognizable mammalian animals and no dinosaurs at all. Some larger birds and reptiles, but mostly this is now the time of the mammal. Our first stop on this tour is the open plains of both North and South America to visit a large predator no longer living and without any direct descendants living still on this earth. That may sound rather strange given that the animal we will discuss for the next week is a rather large cat, but it's the truth, it has no direct descendants living on Earth, but it does have many many cousins.

©Daniel Reed
Smilodon is a small genus of saber toothed cat. There are three species of Smilodon, Smilodon fatalis, Smilodon populator, and Smilodon gracilis. These three species together lived from the time period of about 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. S. gracilis is the oldest species living from 2.5mya to 500,000 years ago while S. populator is the youngest having lived from 1mya to 10,000 years ago. S. fatalis was alive during much of the same time as S. populator. An 1,100 pound beast of a cat, the Smilodon family was capable of everything we think of in a lion- running, jumping, taking down large prey- and possessed magnificent canines that... we are not sure about the exact reason of their existence. Many arguments have been made for a variety of uses over the years with models of all different size and shape being drawn up, but as to my knowledge not one specific theory has been universally accepted. Certainly this will be something we will have to explore for ourselves this week as we delve deeper into exactly what Smilodon did and how it lived.

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