Temporal range: Pliocene–Pleistocene, 5–1.2 Ma
|Skull diagram of D. barlowi|
Dinofelis is a genus of extinct sabre-toothed cats belonging to the tribe Metailurini. They were widespread in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America at least 5 million to about 1.2 million years ago (Early Pliocene to Early Pleistocene). Fossils very similar to Dinofelis from Lothagam range back to the Late Miocene, some 8 million years ago.
Description and ecology
In size they were between a modern leopard and a lion, with most about the size of a jaguar (70 cm tall and up to 120 kg), they were medium-sized but powerful cats with a pair of prominent saber teeth. The front limbs were particularly robust compared to modern cats (even the jaguar).
The canine teeth of Dinofelis are longer and more flattened than those of modern cats but less than those of true saber-tooths, hence the designation of Dinofelis and nimravids as "false saber-tooth" cats. (However, Nimravids are not close relatives of Dinofelis.) While the lower canines are robust, the cheek teeth are not nearly as robust as those of the lion and other modern big cats.
Based on Dinofelis' likely preference of forest habitats, ethologist William Allen et al. believes it possessed a spotted or striped coat.
Their stout body may indicate a preference for dense or mixed habitats, although, like the modern jaguar, it may have ranged from forest to open country, including wetlands.
Dinofelis' prey likely included mammoth calves, young and old mastodons, and Homo habilis (an ancestor of modern humans). However, examination of carbon isotope ratios in specimens from Swartkrans indicates that they probably did not hunt hominids, instead preferring grazing animals. The main predators of hominids in the environment at that time were most likely leopards and fellow machairodont Megantereon, whose carbon isotope ratios showed more indication of preying on hominids.
Dinofelis fossils and bones have been found in South Africa near those of the baboons that it possibly had killed. Bones from several specimens of Dinofelis and baboons were found in a natural trap, where Dinofelis may have been lured to feed on trapped prey. Several sites from South Africa seem to show Dinofelis may have hunted and killed Australopithecus africanus, since the finds mingle fossilized remains of Dinofelis, hominids, and other large contemporary animals. In South Africa, Dinofelis remains have been found near Paranthropus fossil skulls, a few with precisely spaced canine holes in their crania, so it is possible Dinofelis preyed on robust hominids as well. This may been rare, however, as carbon isotope ratios contradict this.
It is thought that the gradual disappearance of its forest environment may have contributed to Dinofelis' extinction at the start of the ice age.
There are indications of other related species.
A list of species currently accepted in the genus:
- Dinofelis aronoki: It lived in the Villafranchian and Biharian stage in Kenya and Ethiopia. Recently split from D. barlowi.
- Dinofelis barlowi: It lived from the Early Pliocene to the late Pleistocene. Geographically, found in Europe, North America and Asia but mainly in Africa. It was 70 cm high and 1 m long, probably the smallest species of Dinofelis.
- Dinofelis cristata: It was found in China. (Includes D. abeli.)
- Dinofelis darti: It lived in South Africa during the Villafranchian stage.
- Dinofelis diastemata: Europe
- Dinofelis paleoonca: North America.
- Dinofelis petteri: East Africa
- Dinofelis piveteaui: South Africa
- Dinofelis sp. "Langebaanweg"
- Dinofelis sp. "Lothagam"
- Dinofelis paleoonca Meade (1945) Its type locality is Meade's Quarry 11, which is in a Blancan terrestrial horizon in the Blanco Formation of Texas. It was recombined as Dinofelis palaeoonca by Kurten (1972), Hemmer (1973), Dalquest (1975), Kurten and Anderson (1980), Schultz (1990) and Werdelin and Lewis (2001).
In popular culture
Could it be, one is tempted to ask, that Dinofelis was Our Beast? A Beast set aside from all the other Avatars of Hell? The Arch-Enemy who stalked us, stealthily and cunningly, wherever we went? But whom, in the end, we got the better of?
- Legendre, Serge & Roth, Claudia (1988), "Correlation of carnassial tooth size and body weight in recent carnivores (Mammalia)", Historical Biology, 1 (1): 85–98, doi:10.1080/08912968809386468
- Turner 1997, pp. 41–43.
- Switek, Brian. "Did Saber Cats Have Spotted and Striped Coats?".
- 1961-, Ganeri, Anita, (2012). The curse of King Tut's tomb and other ancient discoveries. West, David, 1956-. New York: Rosen Pub. Group. ISBN 144886657X. OCLC 744560453.
- "Dinofelis – hominid hunter or misunderstood feline?". www.maropeng.co.za.
- Werdelin & Lewis 2001, .
- G. E. Meade. 1945. University of Texas Publication 4401:509-556
- L. Werdelin and M. E. Lewis. 2001. A revision of the genus Dinofelis (Mammalia: Felidae). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 132(2):147-258
- Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines ISBN 0-09-976991-3
- Haines, Tom & Chambers, Paul (2006), The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life, Canada: Firefly Books, p. 181
- Turner, Alan (1997), The Big Cats and their fossil relatives, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-10228-3
- Werdelin, Lars & Lewis, Margaret E. (2001), "A revision of the genus Dinofelis (Mammalia, Felidae)", Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 132 (2): 147–258, doi:10.1006/zjls.2000.0260