Consequences of Canine Size
Smilodon fatalis has the classic extended, re-curved canines that have made it one of the most popular and most well studied Pleistocene predator. However, modern studies are beginning to show that these teeth would have actually presented a number of challenges for smilodon that would have made many aspects of feeding much harder than in cats with a traditional set of canines (as the modern predators today).
The elongation of the canines is coupled with an increase in the overall gape, or maximum opening of the jaw. However, increasing the gape has the unintended effect of drastically reducing bite force, especially at the exaggerated gapes presented by the enormous canines of smilodon (McHenry, Wroe, Clausen, Moreno, & Cunningham, 2007). Thus, these canines, which grow increasingly exaggerated as the animal ages, actually decrease the overall bite force substantially, raising the question: how did they eat?