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In the prehistoric world, terrifying giants cats ruled supreme. Scientists are always finding more evidence to paint the picture of how these huge, fierce predators lived. And modern species like the still-mysterious Clouded Leopards give us clues about how they lived in the ancient past. 

Until around 10,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age, it was the clash of the titans as giant prey and predators fought on an epic scale. As scary as these cats were though, they could still fall prey to numerous threats like Dire wolves, giant-sized bears, giant hyenas, Terror Birds, other big cats. And, eventually, ancient humans. 

Here are just a few of the biggest, baddest prehistoric cats.

Massive Sabertooth Cats Tackled Giant Prey

Recent findings suggest the fearsome Sabertooth cat Smilodon populator may have taken down enormous prey. A 16-inch skull from Uruguay suggests these cats could reach 960 pounds. At that size, they might have tackled prey as heavy as pickup trucks. Such prey was plentiful, including car-sized armadillos and gigantic ground sloths reaching 12 feet tall. One bite, and the Smilodon could retreat to safety while their prey bled out in seconds. At least it would all be over in a flash.

Smilodon, Sabertooth cats, prehistoric cats

Images of Smilodon cats fighting a prehistoric bear via YouTube

While an average Smilodon could be twice the size of today’s African lions, the specimen from Uruguay was even more humongous and with massive fangs. And even scarier, it might have hunted in a pack. However, they were likely less social than prehistoric American lions or Dire wolves, which could have isolated and overpowered Smilodons in groups.

Smilodon skull with a depiction of a sabertooth cat fighting a Terror Bird

Smilodon skull with a depiction of a sabertooth cat fighting a Terror Bird via YouTube

Although those huge saber teeth are horrifying, they likely disadvantaged the cats in close-quarters combat or the open grasslands. They needed to lay in wait and strike fast, a scary thought indeed!

Video by WildCiencias about animals that could overpower Smilodons:

Prehistoric Knife Tooth Cat

Another contender for the biggest, baddest prehistoric cat was the ancient relative of the Sabertooths, Machairodus lahayishup, or “Knife tooth,” found in North America. These cats could have been 600 pounds and able to take down full-sized bison. They were the largest cats alive around 5 to 9 million years ago.

Related Machairodus horribilis roamed much of the world from 11 to 5 million years ago. They could have been polar bear-sized and nine feet long, weighing almost 900 pounds. Like Smilodon, these cats were ambush predators. Their short legs gave them a disadvantage at long-distance running but their muscular necks and forearms helped them grapple with any-sized animal.

Video about Machairodontinae by Animal Origins:

Cookie-Cutter ‘Panda Cat’ Stalked Prehistoric Florida

An underrated prehistoric cat, Xenosmilus hodsonae was just short of the Sabertooth cat’s weight, reaching up to 500 pounds and 6 feet long, and all muscle. These seriously scary cats stalked Florida 1 to 2 million years ago. It’s known from fossils discovered in Alachua County in the 80s.

This descendant of Machairodus has the common name of Cookie-Cutter Panda Cat, or Hodson’s Scimitar Tooth Cat. They had relatively short canine teeth but had a more powerful bite force, leaving a semi-circular bite mark. Like Smilodon, a devastating bite inflicted deadly punctures and then the cat could retreat to safety as their prey died.

Xenosmilus hodsonae, prehistoric cat from Florida, 2

Image of Xenosmilus via Wikipedia/Gainesville Florida Museum of Natural History

Although slightly smaller than Smilodon, these cats were proportionately stronger with stocky legs and could wrestle almost any prey to the ground. Their teeth were relatively short and strong. Found in an area with lots of peccaries, or small pigs, they were in “hog heaven,” and likely hunted them together.

Xenosmilus hodsonae, prehistoric cat from Florida

Xenosmilus hodsonae, prehistoric cat from Florida. Image via Wikipedia, Mauricio Antón (CC BY 3.0 NL)

The Scimitar Cat

Xenosmilus were related to Homotherium, the Scimitar Cat with shorter serrated canines and the ability to chase down prey over longer distances. Recent research suggests Homotherium latiden’s three-inch sabers were concealed from view when they closed their mouths.

Homotherium latiden via Wikipedia, Scimitar Cat, prehistoric cats

Homotherium via Wikipedia 

 Video about Homotherium by Facts Machine:

Supersized American Lions

Supersized American lions, Panthera atrox, are among the largest true cats in the Felidae family to have ever lived. They were 25% bigger than today’s African lions, and males could reach up to 774 pounds and eight feet long.

American Lions, Panthera atrox, prehistoric cats

American Lions, Panthera atrox via YouTube

Recent studies have suggested they were more closely related to jaguars, while DNA analysis suggests they were more closely related to Eurasian cave lions and modern lions. Compared to lions today, they had longer legs and could run 30 miles per hour despite their giant size. 

Findings suggest American Lions may have hunted in groups similar to today’s lions, taking down horses, American camels, and bison.

Video about American Lions from Facts Machine:

Bizarre Marsupial Sabertooth Creature

One of the strangest prehistoric animals with saberteeth was Thylacosmilus atrox, found in South America. It may have been about the size of a jaguar or cougar. But a casual observer could easily confuse the skulls of Thylacosmilus with a Sabertooth cat. Still, this cat-like oddball was very different, living millions of years before mammals like felines, bears, or wolves.

Thylacosmilus, prehistoric sabertooth, 3

Thylacosmilus atrox via YouTube

Thylacosmilus carried its young in a pouch like a kangaroo. Unlike Smilodon, the sabers were concealed inside a large lower jaw bone, similar to the sheath of a sword. Thus, their name means “the cruel sheathed knife.” Their sabers were larger for their body size than a Sabertooth cat, reaching up to six inches (15 cm) long. 

Thylacosmilus, prehistoric sabertooth

However, recent research suggests Thylacosmilus didn’t hunt like Smilodon but was a powerful scavenger. Instead of stabbing with its sabers, they tore flesh away from the bone.

Thylacosmilus, prehistoric sabertooth, 2

Their triangular sabers were used to pull like claws rather than puncturing the neck. Possibly, they had a specialized long, raspy tongue for extracting meat. It’s a gruesome thought but if true, these animals were among the strangest sabertoothed animals to have ever lived.

Video by Animalogic about Thylacosmilus:

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