‘Can opener’ cats?
J. Brown, PLoS ONE (2014)

'Can opener' cats?

Paleontologists have long wondered how extinct saber-toothed cats like Smilodon used their lengthy fangs when tackling and chewing prey. For decades, researchers thought the cats first bit into their prey with their lower jaws and then used strong neck muscles to roll their head forward and downward to power a bite. But that technique probably wouldn’t work, a pathologist now suggests, because rotation of the head alone wouldn’t help close the jaws. At the full gape needed to get its teeth around prey, he notes, the cat’s jaw muscles wouldn’t have good leverage and bite forces would be relatively weak. Instead, he proposes, a cat first jammed its lower jaw against its prey (top image), similar to the previous model. But then the creature stood up on its forelimbs (bottom image). That motion increased leverage by both raising the base of the neck and rotating the head forward, which powered the fangs into the prey. That motion is comparable to punching a hole in a can with an old-fashioned can opener (the kind that makes a triangular hole on the can's lid), he proposes today in PLOS ONE. Computer simulations might confirm whether the new model is plausible, the pathologist suggests.