Paper No. 122-9
Presentation Time: 3:30 PM
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)
During the Late Pleistocene, sabertooth cats were one of several apex predators to dominate the landscape in southern California and beyond. Unlike most fossil sites were carnivorous animals are found in proportion to their occurrence on the landscape, at Rancho La Brea prehistoric predators were trapped much like flies on fly paper after being drawn to other trapped herbivores and/or carcasses. Because of the million plus fossils excavated over 100+ years at Rancho La Brea, a large collection of pathological specimens have been recovered. Here, we examine and document numerous individuals of Smilodon fatalis with maladies to lower teeth and/or mandibles, many exhibiting tooth abscesses, incidences of infections, and/or clear modifications to dentary bone due to traumatic injury. We subsequently examined the dental microwear textures of the lower first molar (i.e. the sheering facet of the carnassial tooth) of injured Smilodon fatalis and individuals lacking mandibular injuries, to test the hypothesis that injured sabertooth cats ate softer foods than non-injured individuals. Results clearly demonstrate that injured sabertooth cats in fact did eat softer food items (i.e. lower complexity values) than sabertooth cats lacking clear injuries to their mandible. These data indicate a lower incidence of carcass utilization in injured individuals and may even be evidence of the provisioning of food to injured individuals, a phenomenon that has been observed to occur in social animals. The lower incidence of hard-food consumption in injured sabertooth cats is similar to what has been observed in previously examined man-eating lions which also have craniodental injuries. Collectively, these data provide evidence that several individuals with tooth abscesses and/or traumatic mandibular injuries lived with these injuries for a considerable period of time before death and consumed softer foods than non-injured individuals—potentially provisioned softer foods (e.g. flesh) by healthy individuals of the social group.