Smilodon fatalis - Printable Version

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 10-03-2018

Book Pleistocene Mammals of North America
(Bjorn Kurten and Elaine Anderson)

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - Smilodon-Rex - 10-03-2018

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 Map of Florida, with highlights indicating counties where fossils of this species have been found.

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The Smilodon fatalis"s fossil record in Florida

RE: Smilodon fatalis - Wolverine - 11-11-2018

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 11-11-2018

Smilodon fatalis with its prey Equus occidentalis 20.000 years ago in what is now the city of Los Angeles.
Credit to Mark Hallet

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 11-11-2018

Recreated attack of Smilodon fatalis on a young Mammoth taken from the book Great Cats John Seidensticker and Susan Lumpkin 1991

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 11-12-2018

Front cover of book Smilodon The Iconic Sabertooth
Closeup of giant fangs of Smilodon fatalis exhibited in Museo de Ciencias de Caracas, Venezuela

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - Matias - 11-12-2018

Link to the study: Using a Novel Absolute Ontogenetic Age Determination Technique to Calculate the Timing of Tooth Eruption in the Saber-Toothed Cat, Smilodon fatalis.


RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 11-13-2018

Taken from the book Sabertooth (Mauricio Anton)

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - Matias - 11-13-2018

Difficult to understand as a fangs of this size characterizes an element of advantage. The reduced angle of opening of the jaw (even having more than 110 degrees between their arcades) and the fragility before bones or other hard material, as well as the apparent inability to consume all parts of his victim, leaving much of his carcass partially torn to other predators is always an question intriguing.

It is a very ancient and winning dynasty, and it is unquestionable that its functionality has in some way brought an advantage and increased its survival rate. However, I imagine that the long the fangs is (from a certain age), some limitations should arise, both for hunting and for feeding. This picture above (Post 36) @epaiva  is an exceptional individual and this dimension does not seem make it stronger or more fit for anything. The big your fangs, the more ability Smilodon would need to know how to use it. It does not seem good for a predator to need to uncover a complex technique to properly use these two canines. The steady growth of its upper tusks seems to bring many disadvantages.

As the study identifies (Post 37) the rate of growth of these fangs was very slow, allowing a gradual adaptation. Whose implication could determine that until a certain age (still with small fangs) its source of feeding was very different from fully adult individuals. If it were a social feline, the adults were likely to feed first, and the pups and sub-adults (of small fangs) cleaned the carcasses, and so, with bone exception, almost nothing remained. For adults who fed themselves on huge chunks of meat, I do not think it logical for a Smilodon pride competing with each other, as lions do, on a carcass in order to get the best parts, since the frenzy of shared feeding would certainly would cause the rupture of fangs from contact with bones, and thus the vast majority of fossils would not present their fangs intact. If so, it is difficult to imagine Smilodon as a social feline (Big prides).

It is unlikely, but it is possible that a Smilodon like this one in the photo was in its final stage of life, or that its life cycle was shorter than other felines of the same size. I can not see advantage in having a canine more than 14 ou 15cm projected out. In the felidae family it is difficult to understand how this functionality remains present until the late Pleistocene. Without a specialization of large prey (giant sloths for example) these canines would not provide advantages in strong and fast prey such as buffaloes, horses, camels.Living with Panthera Atrox in the last few thousand years has not allowed any evolution in its morphology, such as the reduction of its prey or the increase of its tail. In Africa, its extinction around more than a million years ago coincided with the greatest diversity of widespread antelopes: fast, agile prey and large groupings (savannah)... who knows was a dynasty that survived far beyond his time in the three americas.

Just a few ideas.

I not read these posts that have photos of book pages (Post 38). How to translate?

RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 11-15-2018

Credit to http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - Matias - 12-03-2018

Says Matias:
An approach that relates the two species and could also be posted on the topic about American lions. It is an interesting study whose conclusion, although not definitive, raises many points in questions that previously seemed absolute truths, such as that "difficult times for the two big cats was a constant to obtain food in the late Pleistocene", among other implications and reflections to consider. There seems to be many specificities for the two large cats, and the extinctions of large carnivores in this temporal space are attributes of a greater understanding where spatial ecology needs to be well placed to measure the disorganization of the ecological dynamics that culminated in these extinctions. Although man is the new ecological factor, it seems to me still very complex, to measure its participation in the extinction of great carnivores, without exactly establishing its trophic impact.

Implications of Diet for the Extinction of Saber-Toothed Cats and American Lions
  • Larisa R. G. DeSantis ,
  • Blaine W. Schubert,
  • Jessica R. Scott,
  • Peter S. Ungar
  • Published: December 26, 2012
The saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalisP. atroxAcinonyx jubatus, which actively avoids bone. In contrast, S. fatalis has DMTA attributes most similar to the African lion Panthera leo, implying that S. fatalis did not avoid bone to the extent previously suggested by SEM microwear data. DMTA characters most indicative of bone consumption (i.e., complexity and textural fill volume) suggest that carcass utilization by the extinct carnivorans was not necessarily more complete during the Pleistocene at La Brea; thus, times may not have been “tougher” than the present. Additionally, minor to no significant differences in DMTA attributes from older (∼30–35 Ka) to younger (∼11.5 Ka) deposits offer little evidence that declining prey resources were a primary cause of extinction for these large cats.

RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 02-20-2019

Skull and Head differences of Smilodon fatalis and Smilodon populator
Book The Big Cats and their fossil relatives

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - epaiva - 02-21-2019

Skull and Head of Smilodon fatalis
Book The Big Cats and their fossil relatives

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RE: Smilodon fatalis - Sanju - 03-07-2019

Expecting him to be Smilodon fatalis...

An android automaton display as Smilodon for museum Promotion and attraction.

RE: Smilodon fatalis - Sanju - 03-25-2019

Saber-toothed cats were fierce and family-oriented
Quote:A freshly detailed picture shows Smilodon helping the injured and the young

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THE BADDEST CAT  On countless occasions over thousands of years, predator and prey alike — such as saber-toothed cats and giant ground sloths — became mired in the tar at what is now Rancho La Brea in southern California, leaving loads of fossils for researchers to study.

Sergio de la Rosa

The adolescent saber-toothed cat on a summertime hunt realized too late that she had made a terrible miscalculation. 
Already the size of a modern-day tiger, with huge canine teeth, she had crept across grassy terrain to ambush a giant ground sloth bellowing in distress. Ready to pounce, the cat’s front paw sank into sticky ground.

Pressing down with her other three paws to free herself, then struggling in what has been called “tar pit aerobics,” she became irrevocably mired alongside her prey. 
Scenarios much like this played out repeatedly over at least the last 35,000 years at California’s Rancho La Brea tar pits. Entrapped herbivores, such as the sloth, attracted scavengers and predators — including dire wolves, vultures and saber-toothed Smilodon cats — to what looked like an easy meal. Eventually the animals would disappear into the muck, until paleontologists plucked their fossils from the ground in huge numbers over the last century. 

Five million or so fossils have been found at the site. But “it’s not like there was this orgy of death going on,” says Christopher Shaw, a paleontologist and former collections manager at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles. He calculates that such an entrapment scenario, dooming 10 or so large mammals and birds, would have needed to occur only once per decade over 35,000 years to account for that bounty of fossils.

At La Brea, the collection of Smilodon fatalis fossils alone includes more than 166,000 bones, from an estimated 3,000 of the ill-fated prehistoric cats. Famed for their fearsome canines, which grew up to 18 centimeters long, S. fatalis weighed as much as 280 kilograms, bigger than most of today’s largest lions and tigers.

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Carnivorous Smilodon cats went extinct 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
Sergio de la Rosa

Fossils of S. fatalis, the second largest of three Smilodon species that roamed the Americas during the Pleistocene Epoch, have been found across the United States and in South America, west of the Andes as far south as Chile. And a recent study put S. fatalis in Alberta, Canada, about 1,000 kilometers north of its previously known range.

But the La Brea fossil site, unique in offering up so many specimens, is the source of the vast majority of knowledge about the species. There, fossils of dire wolves and saber-toothed cats together outnumber herbivores about 9-to-1, leading scientists to speculate that both predators may have formed prides or packs, similar to modern lions and wolves. Yet a small number of experts argue against cooperative behavior for Smilodon, reasoning that pack-living animals would have been too intelligent to get mired en masse.

New studies may help settle the debate about Smilodon’s sociality, and answer questions about how the cat lived and why it died out 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.  
“We have an innate curiosity to understand what it was doing and why it went extinct,” says Larisa DeSantis, a vertebrate paleontologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Now, she says, “we can answer these questions.”

DeSantis is studying microscopic wear on fossil teeth and chemical signatures in the enamel to reveal Smilodon’s diet. Other scientists are doing biomechanical studies of the skull, fangs and limbs to understand how the powerful cat captured and killed its prey. Some researchers are extracting DNA from fossils, while others are gathering data on the paleoclimate to try to piece together why Smilodon died out.

“It’s the T. rex of mammals ... a big, scary predator,” says Ashley Reynolds, a paleontology Ph.D. student and fossil cat researcher at the University of Toronto. She presented the Alberta fossil find in October in Albuquerque at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference. Explaining why Smilodon cats continue to excite researchers, she says, “They’re probably the baddest of all the cats that have ever existed.”  

Safety in numbers
Whether Smilodon was a pack hunter has long been debated (SN: 10/28/17, p. 5) because living in groups is rare among large cats today. But an unusual number of healed injuries in the Smilodon bones at La Brea makes it unlikely that these cats were solitary, DeSantis and Shaw reported in November in Indianapolis at a meeting of the Geological Society of America.

More than 5,000 of the Smilodon bones at La Brea have marks of injury or illness: tooth decay, heavily worn arthritic joints, broken legs and dislocated elbows that would have occurred before the animals’ tar burial. Dramatic examples include crushed chests and spinal injuries, which the cats somehow survived. “You would actually wince to see these horribly, traumatically injured specimens,” says Shaw, who is also coeditor of the 2018 book Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth.

One particularly debilitating injury was a crippled pelvis, but evidence of new bone growth shows that the animal lived long enough for healing to occur. “There was a lot of infection, pain and smelly stuff, and just a really awful situation for this animal, but it survived well over a year,” Shaw says. “To me that indicates [the injured cat] was part of a group that helped it survive by letting it feed at kills and protecting it.”

Shaw and DeSantis looked at a series of specimens with what were probably agonizing maladies in the teeth and jaws, including fractured canines and massive infections that left animals with misshapen skulls.

“These animals probably couldn’t have gone out … to kill anything,” Shaw says. “You know how it is when you have a toothache. This is like that times 100.”

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Paleontologist Larisa DeSantis examines Smilodon jawbones from La Brea to look for evidence of injuries that may have hampered a saber-toothed cat’s ability to hunt.
Courtesy of L. DeSantis

DeSantis compared microscopic pits and scratches on the surface of the teeth of injured animals with microwear on the teeth of seemingly healthy Smilodon cats. The injured cats’ dental surfaces indicated that the animals were eating softer foods, which would have been less painful to chew, “likely a higher proportion of flesh, fat and organs, as opposed to bone,” she says.
The findings are consistent with the interpretation that Smilodon was a group-living animal, she says, and that the cats “allowed each other access to food when [injured pack members] couldn’t necessarily take down their own prey.”

Reynolds agrees that the healed injuries are persuasive evidence that Smilodon lived in groups. “When you see an animal with really nasty injuries that healed somehow, it does make you wonder if they were cared for.”

Not everyone is convinced, however. Ecologist Christian Kiffner of the Center for Wildlife Management Studies in Karatu, Tanzania, has studied modern carnivores such as African lions and spotted hyenas. “Relatively long survival of Smilodon fatalis individuals after dental injuries had occurred does not necessarily provide airtight evidence for a specific social system in this species,” he says. “It is very, very difficult to use patterns in Pleistocene carnivore [fossil] assemblages to make inferences about behavior of an extinct species.”

Even if the saber-toothed cats did live in groups, the animals’ exact social structure remains an open question, Reynolds says. Modern lion prides have numerous females and several younger males led by an alpha male, with intense competition between male lions. As a result, males are much bigger than females, as the males must work hard to defend their positions.

Despite searching, scientists have not found obvious evidence of a size difference between the sexes in Smilodon; researchers can’t even tell which La Brea fossils are male or female. Size differences between the sexes, if they existed, may have been small.

“That lack of sexual dimorphism is odd,” says Blaire Van Valkenburgh, a UCLA paleontologist who studies fossil carnivores. Sex-related size differences are seen in many big cats today, most particularly lions. She thinks the lack of sexual dimorphism in Smilodon might hint at a different social structure. Perhaps males weren’t competing quite so intensely for access to females. Maybe there was no single alpha male preventing the majority of males from making a move.

Family affair
Perhaps Smilodon groups had an alpha female rather than an alpha male, or an alpha pair. Such is the case in modern wolves and coyotes, which have less pronounced size differences between sexes than lions do. The prehistoric cats “could have had extended family structures [similar to wolves] where uncles and aunts hung around, because it probably took a while to raise the young saber-toothed cats,” Van Valkenburgh suspects.

Kittens may have taken a long time, as long as 22 months, to get most of their adult teeth, she says. The upper canines took even longer, as much as three years or more, to reach their massive size, researchers reported in PLOS ONE in 2015. Modern lions, in contrast, typically have all of their adult teeth by 17 months, Van Valkenburgh says.
Smilodon kittens also probably went through a substantial learning curve before attempting to take down large prey. “It took longer for them to learn how to safely kill something without breaking their teeth or biting in the wrong place and hurting themselves,” Van Valkenburgh speculates.

Pack living would enable this slower development: “If you’re a social species, you can afford to grow at a slower rate than a nonsocial species because you have a family safety net,” Reynolds says. She is studying Smilodon fossils from Peru’s Talara tar pits for evidence of slow bone development using bone histology, examining thin cross sections under a microscope to determine such things as age and growth rate.

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A saber-toothed Smilodon fatalis skeleton reveals the robust forelimbs the cat used to pin down prey and the long canines that delivered a fatal bite.
The Natural History Museum/Alamy Stock Photo

To understand how saber-toothed cats eventually took down prey, Van Valkenburgh joined paleobiologist Borja Figueirido of the University of Málaga in Spain and others. The group studied the biomechanics of Smilodon’s killing bite and how the animal used its sabers. That work, published in the October 22, 2018 Current Biology, adds to a consensus that the cat used its powerful forelimbs, which existed even in the youngsters (SN Online: 9/27/17), to pin prey before applying a lethal bite to the neck.

“The specialization of being a saber-toothed appears to have been partly to effectively take prey larger than yourself and to do that very quickly,” Van Valkenburgh says. With the prey tightly gripped, a Smilodon cat would position itself so that one or two really strong canine bites would rip open the pinned animal’s throat.

In contrast, lions suffocate prey — one lion may clamp its jaws around the neck, crushing the windpipe, while another uses its mouth to cover the victim’s nose and mouth. Using this slower method would have increased Smilodon’s chances of injuring or damaging those precious canine teeth.

Diverging senses
Smilodon and its extinct saber-toothed relatives are on a branch of the cat family tree that is far from today’s cats. Scientists think Smilodon’s branch diverged from the ancestors of all living cats about 20 million years ago. Given the evolutionary distance, researchers are still trying to determine how similar — or different — Smilodon was from its living feline cousins. A recent focus has been the cat’s sounds and senses.

At the October vertebrate paleontology conference, Shaw presented evidence that Smilodon may have roared, as do lions, tigers, leopards and their close relatives. The clues come from 150 La Brea fossils that were once part of the hyoid arch, or larynx, in the Smilodon throat. (Tar pits stand out for preserving tiny bones rarely found elsewhere.) The small fossils are very similar in shape and style to those of roaring cats. House cats and others that purr have a different arrangement of bones.

Evolutionary distance
Smilodon and its extinct relatives are on a separate branch of the family tree from all living cats. Those two groups diverged perhaps 20 million years ago.

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Cats, from left to right: Dantheman9758/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0); Charles R. Knight; Charles R. Knight; C. Chang; Dantheman9758/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0); DiBgd/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); Iconographia Zoologica; Jean Charles Werner; Reichenbach, Der Naturfreund, 11-12; Jean Charles Werner; Richard Lydekker; C. Chang

Source: A.D. Rincón et al/J. of Vertebrate Paleo. 2011
Smilodon may have “used this type of communication as an integral part of social behavior,” Shaw says. Roaring, however, is not a sure sign of pack living, Reynolds notes; most roaring cats today do not live in large groups.

How Smilodon’s sense of smell compared with living cats’ is something else researchers wonder about. To probe this part of the extinct animal’s biology, a team lead by Van Valkenburgh looked at Smilodon’s cribriform plate — a small, perforated bone inside the skull. Smell-sensing nerve cells pass through holes in the plate from the olfactory receptors in the nose to the brain. The size and number of holes are thought to correlate with the number of receptors and, therefore, the extent of an animal’s sense of smell.

To confirm this link, Van Valkenburgh’s team combined CT scans and 3-D images of skulls from 27 species of living mammals with information on the number of olfactory receptor genes. A CT scan of a skull revealed that Smilodon may have had slightly fewer olfactory receptor nerve cells than a domestic cat, the researchers reported at the paleontology conference. Smilodon’s sense of smell was perhaps 10 to 20 percent less keen than a modern lion’s, says Van Valkenburgh, whose team reported the findings in the March 14, 2018 Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Smilodon “might have relied more heavily on their eyes and their ears,” she says. Perhaps, in an ancient evolutionary divergence, Smilodon’s level of reliance on smell went in a slightly different direction than in modern big cats.

Saber-toothed swan song  
As the pieces of the Smilodon puzzle fall into place, perhaps the biggest remaining mystery is why the animal disappeared 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Debate about the extinction of some of North America’s large mammal species swings between blaming humans and climate change (SN: 11/10/18, p. 28).

While humans, who probably arrived on the continent more than 15,000 years ago, and Smilodon certainly knew one another in the Americas, they may not have overlapped at La Brea, Shaw says. The earliest evidence of people in the Los Angeles Basin is about 11,000 years ago, by which time Smilodon may or may not already have gone. Nevertheless, human hunting of large prey elsewhere in the Americas could have led to a scarcity of food for the big cats, he says.

One theory holds that Smilodon went through tough times at La Brea when lack of prey forced the saber-toothed cats to consume entire carcasses including bones. This has been posited as the reason for all those broken teeth among the La Brea fossils. But DeSantis isn’t convinced; she thinks breakages happened during scuffles with prey. She says dental microwear suggests that Smilodon was not eating great quantities of bone.
Quote:We’re going to have a much better handle on what was going on towards the end of their existence. — Blaire Van Valkenburgh

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Reed Hutchinson/UCLA Photographic Services

Some opportunistic carnivores, such as cougars, did eat bone and managed to survive to the modern day. Perhaps Smilodon couldn’t adapt to hunting smaller prey when larger herbivores disappeared, also around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (SN: 11/24/18, p. 22).

“A lot of the large prey on the landscape go extinct,” DeSantis says. “You lose out on the horses, camels, giant ground sloths, mammoths and mastodon. That’s got to have had an impact.”
The challenge of dating fossils from the tar pits has been one hurdle to understanding exactly what was going on with Smilodon over time. Bones deposited over many thousands of years get jumbled by movement in the tar, for reasons experts don’t fully understand. Plus, the tar itself becomes embedded in each specimen, complicating carbon dating.

However, new methods of chemically pretreating fossils to remove the tar have made carbon dating much easier and cheaper — and a multi-institutional project is now dating hundreds of Smilodon and other bones. Researchers will soon be able to track changes in Smilodon over the 35,000 years of prehistory recorded at La Brea and correlate fossil changes to known changes in climate over that time.

 “We’re going to have a much better handle,” Van Valkenburgh says, “on what was going on towards the end of their existence.”

This article appears in the March 30, 2019 issue of Science News with the headline, "The Baddest Cat of All: Fresh details say saber-toothed Smilodon helped injured pack members."


L. DeSantis et al. Sabertooth cats with toothaches: Impacts of dental injuries on feeding behavior In late Pleistocene Smilodon Fatalis (Mammalia, Felidae) from Rancho La Brea (Los Angeles, California). Geological Society of America 2018 meeting, November 2018, Indianapolis.
D. Bird et al. Olfaction written in bone: Using the close link between cribriform plate and olfactory receptor gene repertoire size to predict olfactory ability in Smilodon fatalis. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting, October 2018, Albuquerque.
A. Reynolds et al. Expanding the Northern range of Smilodon fatalis: Description of the first specimen from Canada (late Pleistocene; Medicine Hat, Alberta). Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting, October 2018, Albuquerque.
C. Shaw. Implied vocalization based on the morphology of the hyoid apparatus In the sabretoothed cat, Smilodon Fatalis (Mammalia, Felidae, Machaerodontinae) from Rancho La Brea, Los Angeles, California. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting, October 2018, Albuquerque.
L. Werdelin et al. Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth. Published by John Hopkins University Press (2018). 
B. Figueirido et al. Distinct predatory behaviors in scimitar- and dirk-toothed sabertooth cats. Current Biology. 28, 1-7, October 22, 2018.  doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.08.012
D. Bird et al. Olfaction written in bone: cribriform plate size parallels olfactory receptor gene repertoires in Mammalia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Volume 285, Issue 1874, March 14, 2018. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0100
K. Long et al. Did saber-tooth kittens grow up musclebound? A study of postnatal limb bone allometry in felids from the Pleistocene of Rancho La Brea. PLOS ONE. 12(9): e0183175, September 27, 2017. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183175
M. Wysocki et al. Using a novel absolute ontogenetic age determination technique to calculate the timing of tooth eruption in the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis. PLOS ONE. 10(7): e0129847, July 1, 2015. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129847
L. DeSantis et al. Implications of diet for the extinction of saber-toothed cats and American lions. PLOS ONE. 7(12): e52453, December 26, 2012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052453
Van Valkenburgh et al. Tough times at La Brea: tooth breakage in large carnivores of the Late Pleistocene. Science. 261, July 23, 1993, p. 456–459.