Dietary ecology of the scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium serum

TitleDietary ecology of the scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium serum
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsDeSantis, LRG, Feranec, RS, Antón, M, Lundelius, EL
JournalCurrent Biology
Keywordscarnivore, dental microwear, dietary ecology, felid, mammoth, Mammuthus, Pleistocene, Predator, sabertooth, Stable isotopes

The scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium was one of the most cosmopolitan cats of the Pleistocene, present throughout Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas until at least ~28 thousand years ago. Friesenhahn Cave (Bexar County, Texas) contains some of the best-preserved specimens of Homotherium serum alongside an abundance of juvenile mammoths, leading some to argue that H. serum preferentially hunted juvenile mammoths.Dietary data of Homotherium are rare, with their ecology inferred from morphological, taphonomic, and genetic data. Here, we use a multi-proxy approach to clarify the dietary ecology of H. serum as compared to extinct and extant cats and their relatives. Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) reveals that H. serum consumed soft and tough foods, similar to the extant cheetah, which actively avoids bone, but in stark contrast to extant lions and hyenas, which are observed to engage in durophagy (i.e., bone processing). DMTA data are consistent with taphonomic evidence of bone defleshing and the absence of bone-crunching behavior in H. serum. Stable carbon isotope values of H. serum indicate a clear preference for C4 grazers including juvenile mammoths, in agreement with taphonomic evidence suggestive of a Homotherium den and morphological data indicative of a relatively cursorial lifestyle. Notably, the inferred diet of H. serum contrasts with the extinct dirk-tooth sabertooth cat Smilodon fatalis, which preferred forest/woodland prey and engaged in bone processing. Homotherium serum exhibited a novel combination of morphological adaptations for acquiring open-country prey, consuming their soft and tough flesh—including the tough flesh of juvenile mammoths.

Short TitleCurrent Biology