Discover Dinictis | Early Saber-toothed Cat

Dinictis lived about 30-20 million years ago in North America and was one of the early saber-toothed cats. They were approximately three to four feet long, much smaller than the more famous saber-toothed cats who would come later. Dinictis wasn’t a true cat. They lived before the emergence of true felids in the fossil record. Instead, Dinictis was a nimravid. They are sometimes called “false cats”.

Dinictis Skull FossilCompared to other saber-toothed nimravids, Dinictis had stronger saber teeth, as well as smaller ones. This suggests that they relied on their teeth to bite and hang onto their prey more than slashing and slicing. Due to Dinictis’ small size, this may have helped them hunt prey that was larger than them. Other saber-toothed cats and saber-toothed false cats would have had to restrain their prey before killing them because their teeth were more prone to breaking.

One theory about the purpose of their stronger teeth is that with them, Dinictis was able to deliver a stronger bite and therefore deliver a killing blow to the skull or spine. Another is that Dinictis was built for hunting smaller prey. In smaller animals, there is a higher likelihood of hitting bone when biting into them. Dinictis’ stronger and smaller teeth would have been able to withstand that impact.


Dinictis Skeleton and DrawingAlthough Dinictis was not a true cat, they probably hunted like cats. They waited in ambush for their prey rather than chasing. Nimravids were plantigrade, meaning that they walked on their feet rather than their toes. True cats walk on their toes. Dinictis also had incompletely retractable claws. This means that nimravids were more adapted to life on the ground than cats and wouldn’t have been able to climb well. They may have laid in wait for their prey in bushes or grasses like lions, only striking once their target comes close enough to pounce on.

In the time Dinictis was on Earth, the tropical forests of earlier time periods were disappearing in favor of grassland. Throughout this cooling period, Dinictis remained one of the most successful predators in North America. Of the nimravids, Dinictis survived far longer than what appears to be typical, according to the fossil record. They are one of only a few nimravid species known to have survived into the Miocene.

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