New sabertooth cat species identified

March 14, 2013 at 5:47 PM
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GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 14 (UPI) -- Scientists say a saber-toothed cat roaming Florida 5 million years ago was of the same lineage as the famous sabertooths of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

While previous research suggested the group of saber-toothed cats known as Smilodontini, which includes both the Floria and California species, originated in the Old World, the age of the new species identified in Florida indicates the group likely originated in North America, scientists at the University of Florida reported Thursday.

"The new species shows that the most famous saber-toothed cat, Smilodon, had a New World origin and it and its ancestors lived in the southeastern Unites States for at least 5 million years before their extinction about 11,000 years ago," researcher Richard Hulbert Jr. said.

"When people think of saber-toothed cats, they think of it as just one thing, as if the famous tar pit saber-toothed cat was the only species, when in fact, it was an almost worldwide radiation of cats that lasted over 10 million years and probably had a total of about 20 valid species," Hulbert said.

"The taxonomy of this [Florida] animal was controversial because when it was first published 20 years ago, they only had one partial, somewhat-decent lower jaw, and it was missing some of the critical features," Hulbert said. "We now have more complete specimens showing it has a mixture of primitive and advanced characters, and does not match any previously named saber-toothed cat genus or species.

"Counting the newly described animal, there are now six different species of saber-toothed cats known just from Florida."

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