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What sharp teeth!
The saber-toothed cat may be the most famous saber-toothed animal, but it's hardly the only one. More than a dozen kinds of animals — many of them now extinct — had saber teeth, including the saber-toothed salmon and the marsupial Thylacosmilus.
Today, saber-toothed animals include the walrus, musk deer and warthog, all of which grow incredibly long and sharp canines, the hallmark of a saber tooth. (Elephant tusks are long incisor teeth, and thus are not sabers.)
It's unclear how ancient animals used their saber teeth. Some experts think predators used these knifelike teeth to hunt and kill, slicing the neck vertebrae and spinal cords of prey, said Ross MacPhee, a curator of mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. [Big Bites: Saber Teeth Compared (Infographic)]
"[But] to me, this is totally improbable," MacPhee told Live Science. "The blades in Thylacosmilus are actually very thin, and neck vertebrae in ungulates are surrounded by tough muscles and ligaments. The teeth would have broken as the prey bucked around."
Instead, perhaps the sabers helped predators tear away at the prey's belly. "This is normal procedure for big placental cats," MacPhee said. "Cutting into the belly tends to bring the prey down on its knees so that it is easier to move in to crush their windpipes."
He added, "Sorry for the graphic details, but this is what happens, and it is supremely effective."
Here's a look at 12 living and extinct saber-toothed animals.
Musk deerSlide 2 of 25
Musk deerSlide 3 of 25
WalrusSlide 4 of 25
WalrusSlide 5 of 25
Saber-toothed salmonSlide 6 of 25
Saber-toothed salmonSlide 7 of 25
Extinct WalrusSlide 8 of 25