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Machairodus is a genus of large machairodontine saber-toothed cats that lived in Africa, China, Eurasia and North America during the late Miocene 4.5 to 5 million years ago. It is the animal from which the subfamily Machairodontinae gets its name and has since become a wastebasket taxon over the years as many genera of saber tooth cat have been and are still occasionally lumped into it.
In general Machairodus was similar in size to a modern lion or tiger, at 2 m (6.6 feet) long and standing about 1 m (3.3 feet) at the shoulder. M. horribilis of China is the largest known species of the genus and is comparable in size to the much later Smilodon populator, weighing around 405 kg (893 pounds). Its skull, measuring upwards of 16 inches (41 cm) in length, is one of the largest known skulls for any machairodont, with only a recently described S. populator skull rivaling it in size, with the latter cat outweighing M. horribilis at 960 lb (440 kg)
Overall, the skull of Machairodus was noticeably narrow compared with the skulls of extant pantherine cats, and the orbits were relatively small. The canines were long, thin and flattened from side to side but broad from front to back like the blade of a knife, as in Homotherium. The front and back edges of the canines were serrated when they first grew, but these serrations were worn down in the first few years of the animal's life.
Machairodus probably hunted as an ambush predator. Its legs were too short to sustain a long chase, so it most likely was a good jumper, and used its canines to cut open the throat of its prey. Its teeth were rooted to its mouth and were as delicate as those in some related genera, unlike most saber-toothed cats of the time, which often had extremely long canines which hung out of their mouths. The fangs of Machairodus, however, were able to more easily fit in its mouth comfortably while being long and effective for hunting. Despite its great size, the largest example of Machairodus, M. horribilis was better equipped to hunt relatively smaller prey than Smilodon, as evidenced by its moderate jaw gape of 70 degrees, similar to the gape of a modern lion.
Location: Gansu Province, China Age: Late Miocene, 6 MYA
9.5 inches long
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