A comparison of tooth wear and breakage in Rancho La Brea sabertooth cats and dire wolves across time
The carnivores preserved in the late Pleistocene Rancho La Brea tar seep deposits display a remarkably high incidence of teeth broken in life as compared with modern species. In a previous study examining tooth breakage, tooth wear and individual age of Canis dirus over different periods in time, we found that Pit 13 C. dirus (about 15,000 years before present [ybp]) exhibited heavier tooth wear and fractured their teeth about three times more often than those of the younger Pit 61/67 (about 12,000 ybp). No significant difference was found in the age structure of the population, suggesting this came from differences in feeding behavior, likely bone consumption, at these two times. In this study, we extend this work to the Rancho La Brea sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis, a hypercamivore with more specialized teeth and feeding behavior. We looked at tooth breakage, tooth wear, and individual age of S. fatalis compared with C. dirus from similar time intervals. As in the previous study, the age structure of the Smilodon samples did not differ between different time intervals. Interestingly, S. fatalis had consistent and higher levels of tooth breakage and apparent average age than C. dirus in either location, and tooth wear was similar to that observed in the more worn Pit 13 sample of C. dirus. This may demonstrate that S. fatalis was consuming more bone, and/or that S. fatalis individuals were older, had different relative dentine deposition rates, or might reflect the greater vulnerability of the sabercats' narrow teeth to wear and fracture.
Wendy J. Binder & Blaire Van Valkenburgh (2010) A comparison of tooth wear and breakage in Rancho La Brea sabertooth cats and dire wolves across time,Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30:1, 255-261, DOI: 10.1080/02724630903413016