Using sophisticated computer modelling and graphics, scientists worked out that the powerful cat had a less than powerful bite than our average sized lion despite having an impressive display of sharp,long teeth. The force, infant, may have been a third of that of a modern day tiger.
Researcher Dr Steve Wroe said his calculations could seriously ruin reputation of this fierce-some cat, ‘Smilodon fatalis’, which last roamed the Earth 10,000 years ago.
“For all its reputation, Smilodon had a wimpy bite,” he said. “It bit like a moggy.”
Some scientists argued a powerful bite was needed to kill, with others said an ability to pin down prey such as mammoths and bison meant that a relatively weak bite would have been perfectly adequate.
“Historically, there have been a number of interpretations about how Smilodon killed,” said Dr Wroe.
“Early researchers thought it had a weak bite. More recently people have thought the bite was strong.”
The calculations were done at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and follows years of uncertainty over how the 50-stone sabre-toothed tiger or cat killed its prey.
The latest research strengthens the argument for a weak bite.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said the sabre-toothed tiger compensated for its lack of bite in other ways: muscular forelimbs, huge claws and powerful neck would have enabled it to pin down its victim – before sinking its teeth deep into the unfortunate animal’s neck.
Describing the creature as a “ruthlessly efficient hunter of big game”, Dr Wroe said: “Smilodon was an awesome beast – and what it lacked in bite force it more than made up for elsewhere.
“The sabrecat had an immensely powerful body; perfect for wrestling large prey to the ground, and our models show it needed to do this before trying a bite.
“Killing was more likely applied to the prey’s throat, because it is easier to restrain the prey this way.
“Once the bite was done, the prey would have died almost instantly.”
Lions, however, take much longer to kill, despite their more powerful jaws.
The researchers said: “Killing techniques used by lions can require bites exceeding 13 minutes, but it is unlikely maximum force could be sustained over such periods.
“Powerful jaw muscles may reflect a need for sustained rather than high peak bite forces, whereas less powerful jaws in the sabrecat may reflect a more rapid kill”