A skull of Machairodus horribilis and new evidence for gigantism as a mode of mosaic evolution in machairodonts (Felidae, Carnivora)
DENG Tao, ZHANG Yun-Xiang, Zhijie J. TSENG, HOU Su-Kuan
Abstract Sabertooth cats were extinct carnivorans that have attracted great attention and controversy because of their unique dental morphology representing an entirely extinct mode of feeding specialization. Some of them are lion-sized or tiger-sized carnivorans who are widely interpreted as hunters of larger and more powerful preys than those of their modern nonsaber-toothed relatives. We report the discovery of a large sabertooth cat skull of Machairodus horribilis from the Late Miocene of northwestern China. It shares some characteristics with derived sabertooth cats, but also is similar to extant pantherines in some cranial characters. A functional morphological analysis suggests that it differed from most other machairodont felids and had a limited gape to hunt smaller preys. Its anatomical features provide new evidence for the diversity of killing bites even within in the largest saber-toothed carnivorans and offer an additional mechanism for the mosaic evolution leading to functional and morphological diversity in sabertooth cats.
Key words Gansu, China; Late Miocene; sabertooth cat; skull; predatory behavior