Why Did the Sabertooth Tiger Become Extinct?

The sabertooth tiger may have become extinct due to climate change, lack of large prey and competition from humans. However, there’s no fossil evidence of tooth wear to suggest sabertooth cats starved. Although climate change killed off the dinosaurs, sabertooth cats consumed mammals almost exclusively.

Palaeontologists have long assumed that sabertooth tigers, native to North America, died out because they no longer had enough food. However, a 2012 study of wear patterns on fossil teeth found no evidence to suggest starvation. When prey populations decline, predators typically eat more of each carcass. Chewing large, heavy bones creates distinct wear patterns on teeth and higher rates of breakage. No fossil examples suggest that sabertooths didn’t have enough to eat.

Another possible explanation for sabertooths’ extinction is that North America’s climate cooled rapidly. Although dinosaurs became extinct because of this cataclysmic climate change, it didn’t affect sabertooths’ typical prey items – mammoths, camels, giant ground sloths, bison and horses – to the same degree. Habitat loss due to climate change forced these prey animals to evolve to smaller species, but they were still plentiful. However, when the first humans arrived in North America about 12,000 years ago, climate change as well as increased competition for food may have led to the extinction of many species of native megafauna.