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Academic & Professional Books  Palaeontology  Palaeozoology & Extinctions

Smilodon The Iconic Sabertooth

By: Lars Werdelin(Editor), H Gregory McDonald(Editor), Christopher A Shaw(Editor)
212 pages, 15 plates with colour illustrations; 39 b/w photos, 14 b/w illustrations, 1 b/w map
Smilodon is a collection of technical contributions, bringing readers right up-to-date with the state of research on this group of sabertooth cats.
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  • Smilodon ISBN: 9781421425566 Hardback Jul 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £92.99
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About this book

Few animals spark the imagination as much as the sabertooth cat Smilodon. With their incredibly long canines, which hung like fangs past their jaws, these ferocious predators were first encountered by humans when our species entered the Americas. We can only imagine what ice age humans felt when they were confronted by a wild cat larger than a Siberian tiger.

Because Smilodon skeletons are perennial favorites with museum visitors, researchers have devoted themselves to learning as much as possible about the lives of these massive cats. Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth, edited by celebrated academics, brings together a team of experts to provide a comprehensive and contemporary view of all that is known about Smilodon. The result is a detailed scientific work that will be invaluable to paleontologists, mammalogists, and serious amateur sabertooth devotees.

Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth
- covers all major aspects of the animal's natural history, evolution, phylogenetic relationships, anatomy, biomechanics, and ecology
- traces all three Smilodon species across both North and South America
- brings together original, unpublished research with historical accounts of Smilodon's discovery in nineteenth-century Brazil

The definitive reference on these iconic Pleistocene mammals, Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth will be cited by researchers for decades to come.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A treasure trove for academics
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 9 Nov 2018 Written for Hardback

    When it comes to Ice Age fame, sabertooth cats are right up there with mammoths. And within the sabertooth cats, the best-known group is the genus Smilodon. Even if you have not heard that name, you will very likely have seen it depicted. Rather than a pop-science book, this edited collection brings together the who-is-who of sabertooth palaeontology to provide a thorough and technical overview of the current state of the field. And if I did not know any better, I would say that the research community has developed an almost unhealthy obsession with this cat’s large canine teeth.

    Smilodon: The Iconic Sabertooth consists of twelve mostly technical chapters covering a range of topics. Editor H. Gregory McDonald kicks off with the long and convoluted history of the name of the species, with different authorities suggesting different names and affiliations since its initial description in 1842. Nowadays, the consensus is that three species can be recognised, Smilodon fatalis, S. gracilis, and S. populator. There is also a chapter putting Smilodon in a phylogenetic context, suggesting some very tentative hypotheses as to how it related to other saber-toothed cat groups. Further chapters give detailed description of Peruvian S. fatalis and Chilean S. populator fossils, as well as fossil material from South Carolina. That last chapter argues for reinstating an older species name, going against the consensus I just mentioned.

    There is a very readable review of palaeopathological research (i.e. research on fossil traces of injury and disease), and a technical review of its postcranial morphology (i.e. the skeleton minus the skull). This leaves five chapters on those teeth and what they tell us. There are two good reasons for this dental fixation. One, you cannot go around as a cat sporting vampire-like fangs and not expect a bunch of biologists to go crazy (trust me, I’m a biologist). Two, we have an awful lot of fossil skull material from this group, and skulls, in general, can tell us a lot about the biology of a species. There is one site, in particular, that has contributed disproportionately to our knowledge of Smilodon: the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

    Allow me a minor tangent, as I found this bit really interesting. Tar pits are areas where crude oil spontaneously seeps from the earth, forming pools. As lighter fractions of the oil degrade and evaporate, these pools turn into sticky asphalt that can easily trap animals. Trapped animals attract predators and scavengers looking for an easy meal, which in turn run the risk of also becoming trapped. The seepage at La Brea has been happening for tens of thousands of years (side-note: interestingly for such a legendary fossil site, there does not seem to be a good recent book describing it for a general audience as far as I am aware. I am similarly also not 100% clear if these pits are still “active”, but my impression is that they are). Due to their age, the pits have ensnared tens of thousands of animals and in more than a century of excavations, some 5 million (!) fossil specimens large and small have been recovered, including enough fossil bones to, possibly maybe, make up an estimated 3000 S. fatalis individuals.

    Point of above little tangent is that La Brea has yielded a huge number of skulls and teeth, but very few articulated fossil skeletons (i.e. fossils where all the bones in the body are still neatly lying in the same orientation as they would have when the animal just died). Instead, La Brea has yielded an enormous unorganised jumble of bones belonging to the rest of the body, explaining the research focus on skulls. Well, that and those teeth of course.

    As such, there are chapters here employing fancy new techniques such as computational biomechanics (finite element analysis, since you are asking) to model mechanical stress on the skull and teeth during bites, or steampunk-esque engineering experiments using Robocat (alas, pictures not included!) to do real-life bite tests on carcasses so as to test a proposed hypothesis for how Smilodon might have used those large canine teeth. There are review chapters on tooth development in life – yes, there is enough fossil material to make series of younger to older individuals to see how teeth erupted! And chapters on diet as revealed by dental microwear and isotope analysis of fossil teeth (see also my review of Evolution’s Bite), or changes in feeding ecology over thousands of years as revealed by changes in both tooth breakage and wear, and shape and size of the lower jaw bone.

    The presentation of the book is neat and the reproduction of black-and-white photos and drawings usually excellent. Some tables seem to omit units used for measurements, and do not include explanations of all abbrevations (notably chapter 3 where table footers tell the reader that "N" stands for sample size, but do not add that "MT" stands for metatarsal, for example). Referring to the text will clarify these points, so overall these are minor niggles.

    As happens quite often with edited collections of this kind, much of the material presented in Smilodon is of a highly technical nature, aimed at peers. Most chapters assume a detailed knowledge of, in this case, skeletal morphology and dentition and will not clarify jargon, assuming it understood. Next to review chapters, several chapters here are effectively journal articles presenting new research. As such, academic exactitude rather than readability is the prime directive. To give you just one example of what to expect, this from the chapter describing skeletal morphology: “Berta (1987, 1995) noted that S. gracilis has a tuberosity on the anterior margin of the intertrochanteric fossa that is characteristic of Smilodontini and lacking in P. onca” (p. 179). And this goes on for a good ten pages.

    Now, to fault the book for this would be completely missing the point. The only reason I am highlighting this is for the reader to know what to expect going in. If you want a popular science book for a general audience, then this is not the book for you – instead, I refer you to Antón’s splendidly illustrated book Sabertooth and, more generally, The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives. However, for practising palaeontologists and mammalogists, and tenacious readers who do not flinch at a journal article or two, this book is a treasure trove collecting review articles and new research on Smilodon. And it very neatly complements Naples et al.'s 2011 book The Other Saber-Tooths, also published by Johns Hopkins University Press, which is a comparable edited collection on Smilodon‘s close relatives.
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Lars Werdelin is a professor of paleontology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He is the coeditor of Cenozoic Mammals of Africa. H. Gregory McDonald is a regional paleontologist for the Bureau of Land Management, Utah State Office. He is the coauthor of The White River Badlands: Geology and Paleontology. Christopher A. Shaw is a research associate and former collections manager at the George C. Page Museum.

- John P. Babiarz
- Wendy J. Binder
- Charles S. Churcher
- Larisa R. G. DeSantis
- Robert S. Feranec
- Therese Flink
- James L. Knight
- Margaret E. Lewis
- Larry D. Martin
- H. Gregory McDonald
- Julie A. Meachen
- William C. H. Parr
- Ashley R. Reynolds
- Kevin L. Seymour
- Christopher A. Shaw
- C. S. Ware
- Lars Werdelin
- H. Todd Wheeler
- Stephen Wroe
- M. Aleksander Wysocki

By: Lars Werdelin(Editor), H Gregory McDonald(Editor), Christopher A Shaw(Editor)
212 pages, 15 plates with colour illustrations; 39 b/w photos, 14 b/w illustrations, 1 b/w map
Smilodon is a collection of technical contributions, bringing readers right up-to-date with the state of research on this group of sabertooth cats.
Media reviews

"Smilodon is a comprehensive treasure trove of new studies and revelations about this enigmatic cat. Werdelin, McDonald, and Shaw provide fertile ground for the emergence of new research and insights into a unique predator that is now extinct!"
– Russell W. Graham, The Pennsylvania State University

"Smilodon, a cultural and scientific icon, deserves special treatment. This book delivers, bringing readers an impressive assembly of modern sabertooth expertise. With lovely classical paintings and many new insights, Smilodon is a requisite for sabertooth armchair aficionados and cognoscenti alike."
– Xiaoming Wang, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

"Smilodon is a definitive and comprehensive primer on the greatest and latest of the sabertooth cats. This comprehensive volume delves into the breadth and scope of research on this legendary animal, covering its biology from hunting behavior to the growth of its famous canine teeth, patterns of skeletal injury, and evolution."
– Blaire Van Valkenburgh, University of California, Los Angeles

"Smilodon packs the most comprehensive collection of facts about the quintessential sabertoothed cat available between two covers, reviewing evolution, adaptations, and the history of discovery and study. It is an unmissable addition to the library of paleontologists, evolutionary biologists, and anyone fascinated by the most spectacular carnivorans ever to walk the planet."
– Mauricio Anton, paleoartist, author of Sabertooth

"An excellent compilation of what we know about Smilodon, one of the most fascinating sabre-toothed felids. Over the course of this volume, we discover when the first fossils of this predator were found and their geographical distribution, how Smilodon killed its prey, and which pathologies affected its skeleton. The book provides us with a very complete portrait of this iconic predator."
– Manuel J. Salesa, El Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales

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