Darwin Evolving: Distinguished Naturalists

Dr. Blaire Van Valkenburgh Nov. 18, 2009

Blaire Van Valkenburgh

The Natural History of Saber Toothed Cats

Sabertooth cats, especially the genus Smilodon, are among the most widely recognized of extinct mammals. With its powerful forelimbs and elongate canine teeth, Smilodon was the last of a successful kind of predator that evolved multiple times over the past 40 million years. In fact, for most of this time period, one to three species of sabertooth cats could be found on almost every continent. In my talk, I will briefly review the evolutionary history of sabertooths, and then illustrate how evidence from bones and teeth alone can reveal how and what they killed, why they had such big teeth, whether they lived alone or in groups, and why they disappeared.


Dr Van Valkenburgh is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA and current President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Awarded the University Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2007, and featured in various television documentaries on prehistoric predators ranging from terror birds to sabertooth cats, Dr. Van Valkenburgh is a leading expert on the evolutionary biology of large carnivores, past and present.