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Jonathon Woolf wrote:
> Chris Campbell wrote:
> <large quotes snipped>
> > Perhaps my info's outdated, but I thought it clear that _Smilodon_ 
> > used its teeth to effectively hunt and kill juvenile mammoths.  It's > > 
> > build certainly supports the idea, and there are some crazy lions 
> > and tigers even today who hunt elephants, so the concept isn't 
> > completely unheard of among felids (or their kin, as the case may > > be).
> _Smilodon fatalis_ definitely went after large and heavy prey: 
> mammoths, mastodons, rhinos, perhaps ground sloths.  Skeletons from 
> the La Brea Tar Pits confirm that: many of them show pathological 
> damage to the rib cage and upper vertebrae consistent with rushing, 
> tackling type attacks against things that were very large and very 
> solid.  However, none of the references I have seem to agree on 
> precisely _how_ _Smilodon_ killed its prey.  Stabbing?  Slashing?  
> Clawing?  Throat-strangles, like modern cats prefer?  The gigantic 
> saberteeth seem like made to order killing weapons, but _how_ did the > cat 
> kill with them?  They're blunt-tipped, so they wouldn't make good > stabbing 
> weapons.  They have no edges, so they couldn't be used for > slashing.  

The only thing I can think of (which has been mentioned in some areas,
not mentioned in others) is that the _Smilodon_ would leap onto the back
of its prey, stab through the fatty tissue covering the back of the
neck, and break the spine with a decent head shake.  Clawing would make
the teeth pointless, and would actually get in the way of a good throat
strangle.  Note that many cats today use a variant of this technique,
simply snapping the spine with a bite to the neck (many employ both this
method and the more common strangulation method).  It seems reasonable
that the elongated teeth would be an aid to get through thicker tissues
on the back of the neck, thus letting the animal get at heavier prey
which would be immune to strangulation methods (or at least highly
resistant, given height and probably mortality for the attacker). 
Granted, there's no direct evidence (that I know of, though I've been
out of the loop for awhile) that this is exactly what happened, but it's
certainly consistent with what circumstantial evidence we have and the
physiology of the sabre-tooths.

> And what would happen to a cat that
> missed a lethal area on the first strike?  Those big, heavy saberteeth
> are _extremely_ awkward to heave around, like an average man trying to
> handle a claymore, that huge two-handed sword that Mel Gibson carried > in 

Said individual would be in for one heckuva ride as a juvenile mammoth
freaked out and took off at top speed.  Of course, given the massively
built forequarters the animal could probably just hang on and stab again
and again until it met with success.  There don't seem to be anything
like blood grooves on those teeth, though, so pulling them out would be
tough in any event, I agree.  This makes the argument for the target
area being the neck even stronger, however, as that region would
probably give the attacker the greatest leeway if she/he screwed up.