Fossils of saber-toothed predator discovered in southern China
Published: Apr 14, 2022 11:35 PM
Photo: Courtesy of Jiangzuo Qigao

Photo: Courtesy of Jiangzuo Qigao

Do you like the saber-toothed predator that fought tooth and nail to protect the young of prehistoric humans in animated movie The Ice Age? New Chinese research suggests that the species may actually have been an ape hunter.

Fossils of a new species of saber-toothed predator have been discovered by Chinese researchers in southern China, giving a clearer picture of the ecological environment of the region seven million to nine million years ago. Also, thousands of fossil specimens of the ape Lufengpithecus hudiensis have been found in the same region.

Chinese paleobiology researchers believe the middle-sized saber-toothed predator might have caught and fed upon apes, which were relatives of humans.

Jiangzuo Qigao, one of the major researchers of the two discoveries and assistant researcher at Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the saber-toothed cat Megantereon is an iconic carnivore in the Pleistocene era in Eurasia, but its fossil record is extremely rare and highly fragmentary in southern China, so the discoveries can help make the evolution of the species in the region more clear.

"The discoveries can also provide information about the living environment of apes at that time, and build a picture of the ecological environment of southern China millions of years ago," Jiang added.

The new species of saber-toothed predator is smaller than another species called Megantereon. "We found about 10 saber-toothed predator fossils, including skulls and a large number of stray teeth," Jiang said.

The larger saber-toothed tigers were about the size of today's tigers and probably ate hoofed animals while the medium-sized saber-toothed tigers were about the size of leopards, similar in size to the ape hominid and weighing between 40 and 50 kilograms.

Photo: Courtesy of Jiangzuo Qigao

Photo: Courtesy of Jiangzuo Qigao


Threatened by the larger saber-toothed tigers and under pressure to survive, medium-sized saber-toothed tigers would probably choose to prey on the ape as a staple food, Jiang said. 

Saber-toothed tigers have been a popular research subject as they are well-known in the public thanks to TV shows and films. The completely extinct species was at the top of the food chain, maintaining the ecological balance.

In the past, a large number of feline fossils have been unearthed in the strata of Europe and northern China, but few feline fossils have been recorded in southern China. The recent discoveries help to fill in the blank part.

The discoveries were published in the international journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.