Big sabre-tooth scimitar cat fossil found in North Sea

November 20, 2008

(ChattahBox) — The partial leg bone of a sabre-toothed cat has been dredged from the seabed by a trawler in the North Sea.
It had been netted in the southern bend of the North Sea, an area known to yield fossils from every period of the Pleistocene. This epoch lasted either from 2.6 or 1.8 million years ago (depending on which expert you ask) until 10,000 years ago.

According to palaeontologist Dick Mol of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, it belonged to an animal that was as heavy as a small horse.  The rare fossil, which is between one and two million years old and was found near the UK coast, is from a type of sabre-tooth called a scimitar cat (Homotherium crenatidens). Mr Mol, who is based at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, said the partial humerus belonged to a “huge” (probably male) cat that weighed about 400kg (881lbs).

“We have to understand that sabre-toothed cats are specialised hunters at the top of the food chain. So they are already very rare.”

The remains of only one other sabre-toothed cat – a much younger species called Homotherium latidens – have previously been recovered from the North Sea.

Scientists think the huge canines that characterise these cats were remarkably fragile. So the animals probably sank their “sabre-teeth” into the fleshy necks of their prey, avoiding bones that might crack these delicate mouth ornaments.

The big cats would then wait for the unlucky animal to die from blood loss.

It is the furthest north this species has ever been found, and the first time remains have come from the North Sea. The remains of Ice Age animals are routinely netted by Dutch trawlers. Other Early Pleistocene animals recovered from this part of the North Sea include elephant-like mastodon, southern mammoth, hippopotamus, horses, bears and giant deer.

The Rotterdam-based researcher said the sabre-tooth could have inhabited this part of North-West Europe during a warm spell between glaciations. The dry steppe landscape, criss-crossed by rivers, where animals such as the scimitar cat once roamed was flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.

“The fauna we are dealing with – the southern mammoth, the hippo, the giant deer and this sabre-toothed cat – were adapted to a savannah-like environment,” Mr Mol told BBC News.

“[The cat] was probably living in the forest that bordered on the river banks.”

He added: “It was like the Serengeti, but in our back garden.”


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