Journal article Open Access

Assessing Behavior in Extinct Animals: Was Smilodon Social?

McCall, Sherman; Naples, Virginia; Martin, Larry

It has been suggested that saber-tooth species such as Smilodon fatalis were social because partially healed skeletal injuries were found at Rancho La Brea, California. This conclusion assumes injured animals would die without help. This paper will rebut assertions of sociality. First, cats use metabolic reserves to heal quickly without feeding. Second, dehydration is a more profound limitation than starvation as prey carcasses only provide a quarter of necessary water. Injured animals must be mobile enough to find water or die of dehydration. Their presence in a tar pit also strongly suggests locomotion. Finally, the relatively small brain found in Smilodon is not consistent with sociality. Another argument for sociality has been the large ratio of Smilodon to other species in the La Brea tar pits. However, the remains of a non-social species, the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetus), are about as common as Smilodon. Contrariwise, the highly social grey wolf (Canis lupus) and coyote (Canis latrans) are extremely rare. Available evidence does not support sociality in Smilodon.
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