It’s time to add another ruthless, mauling beast to the list of prehistoric predators that we’re both sad and relieved to know are no longer around: Machairodus lahayishupup, a 660-pound saber-toothed cat that likely roamed across around North America between 5 and 9 million years ago. Its discoverers say the fanged feline was so big, in fact, it probably hunted rhinoceros.
Science Alert reported on the discovery, which comes at the tail end of a years-long research effort. John Orcutt, an assistant professor of biology at Gonzaga University, originally initiated the project. He began the effort after coming across a large upper arm bone specimen from an unidentified cat as a graduate student.
To identify the species of cat to which the arm bone (immediately below) belonged, Orcutt teamed up with assistant professor of evolution at Ohio State University, Jonathan Calede. The pair published their findings in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution and describe M. lahayishupup as a truly impressive killing machine.
“We believe these were animals that were routinely taking down bison-sized animals,” Calede said in an OSU press release. “This was by far the largest cat alive at that time,” the assistant professor added.
Along with rhinoceros, the researchers also say the big cats—most closely related to Smilodon, the saber-toothed tiger fossil found at the La Brea Tar Pits in California (in the image below)—likely hunted other large animals; such as giant ground sloths, or even giant camels. The researchers also speculate the heaviest adult M. lahayishupup was approximately as large as the largest Siberian tigers on record. Meaning they were nearly 900 pounds. The researchers also believe prey weighing up to 6,000 pounds would’ve been on the menu for the cats.
In regards to how the researchers identified M. lahayishupup, they compared its arm bones to those belonging to other cats; both prehistoric large cats, as well as modern big cats, such as lions. Interestingly, they found similar unidentified arm bones in “specimen after specimen” in museums across North America.
“Their unique shape and size told us they were…very different from everything that is already known,” Calede added in the press release. Although the fear the big cats conjure in us when we think about them still feels very familiar.
Feature image: Bone Clones