Paleontologists have announced the discovery of what they are calling a “small revelation” in Punta Hermengo, Argentina, where the first ever fossilized saber-toothed cat paw prints have been found. Presenting their work at the recent Argentine Meeting of Vertebrate Paleontology, the team revealed that the tracks were most likely made by a Smilodon populator – the largest of the three known species of Smilodon – and are about 20 percent larger than the paw prints of a Bengal tiger.
Researchers discovered the prints of the animal’s front and hind paws, which they say have remained “preserved in fine, grainy sediment” since the moment the beast took a stroll through the region about 50,000 years ago. Measuring 17.6 centimeters (6.9 inches) in length and 19.1 centimeters (7.5) in width, the front paw is the larger of the two, and gives an indication of the ancient creature’s awesome stature.
According to the team, the animal lived during a South American land mammal age called the Lujanian age, a geologic time period spanning the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. Thought to have lived only in South America, S. populator is similar to – yet bigger than – the well known Smilodon fatalis species of saber-toothed cat, which rose to global fame when the remains of a large number of individuals were discovered in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
Yet while the streets of Hollywood may be lined with the prints of its biggest stars, S. fatalis has yet to provide researchers with a complete track to sink their teeth into.
Though the marks left by S. fatalis’s southern cousin display a number of morphological features that would seem to confirm its identity as S. populator, the researchers say it is impossible to be 100 percent certain which animal the prints actually belong to. Because of this, the tracks will be given a new species name, with the team suggesting it be called Smilodon miramensis, after the Miramar region where Punta Hermengo is located.