We know that modern lions are social and form prides, but whether this was also is true of the extinct sabertooth cat, Smilodon, as well, or whether it was a solitary hunter, like the living tigers, is still being debated by paleontologists. The social behavior of Smilodon is just one of the many questions that paleontologists have asked about the natural history of one of the best known and iconic ice age mammals, perhaps only second to the equally well-known mammoths. In an attempt to try and address the many facets of the natural history of this extinct predator, easily recognized by its distinctive enlarged canines or sabers that give rise to its more popular name, a gathering of paleobiologists (dare we say a pride?) from Europe, South America, and across the United States were brought together for the first International Sabertooth Workshop, a three day meeting supported by the National Science Foundation and co-hosted by the Idaho Museum of Natural History and the Department of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University. This paleontological think tank, composed of individuals, all of whom have studied the many interesting aspects of Smilodon’s anatomy and natural history, was convened to discuss a number of issues related to sabertoothed carnivores in order identify areas of further research potential for anatomical and physiological analyses, hunting and other proposed behaviors, past environments in which they lived and ultimately the cause of extinction.
One of the resulting products of this workshop is the book, Smilodon: the Iconic Sabertooth. Many of the individuals who participated in the workshop, along with some others who were not able to be there, but also have an interest in the animal, have contributed chapters to the volume. The result is an attempt to present in one place the many facets of the paleobiology of Smilodon, and provide an overview of our current state of knowledge of the animal, but most importantly provide a strong foundation that will stimulate new research into this animal. While there is consensus on some aspects of the natural history of Smilodon, there still very divergent opinions as well, such as the function of the enlarged canines and how Smilodon killed its prey. As is always the case in paleontology, all summaries are fleeting, and limited to what specimens and localities are known at the time. With the discovery of new specimens, from new localities and the application of new technology, much more will be learned about Smilodon, but it is the goal of this book to provide a solid context in which to interpret these new discoveries, and to direct future research.
Lars Werdelin is a professor of paleontology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. He is the coeditor of Cenozoic Mammals of Africa. H. Gregory McDonald is a regional paleontologist for the Bureau of Land Management, Utah State Office. He is the coauthor of The White River Badlands: Geology and Paleontology. Christopher A. Shaw is a research associate and former collections manager at the George C. Page Museum.