Saturday, December 2, 2017

Where Did You Get Those Teeth?

Image result for saber tooth tiger

Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

Geologically speaking Saber-tooth cats (Smilodon fatalis) became extinct only recently, about 10000 ybp (years before present).  Prior to that they had a world-wide distribution for about 42 million  years.

A short film animated by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck shows how paleontologist, Jack Tseng approaches the problem of their long canines.  One argument is that the fangs of a saber-tooth cat were too long to be used for killing. The fangs could be as long as ~30 cm (12"). Therefore, these cats were thought of as opportunists, taking advantage of the kills of other animals.  By this account they could be considered as scavengers. Hard to think of them, though, as skulking scavengers!

Tseng, garnering as much evidence as he can from the bones offers a compelling hypothesis.  He thinks the cats were predators.  The film tells us how the fangs grow and how fast as well as how they might be used by a predator. In addition to killing, also for cutting. Tseng also speculates on saber-tooth cat family life, the growth of the cubbies.

As soon as I opened the link to the film, I knew that it was made by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck. They are delightful artists and animators. Lichtman was a correspondent and video editor on National Public Radio's Science Friday for a several years but left to pursue this career.  Lichtman and Shattuck can play with paper and string in ways that help you consider the featured content as well as in a way that makes you want to think about it. And in ways that amaze.

You may see other videos the two of them have produced at their company, Sweet Fern Productions and also learn more about them.

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