Washington: A super-predator, which lived in South America around 3.5 million years ago, had huge sabre-like teeth but their bite was weaker than that of a domestic cat, new research has showed.
University of New South Wales palaeontologist, Dr Stephen Wroe, leader of the research team, said that to achieve a kill, Thylacosmilus atrox must have secured and immobilised large prey using its extremely powerful forearms, before inserting the sabre-teeth into the windpipe or major arteries of the neck - a mix of brute force and delicate precision.
Thylacosmilus atrox`s huge canine teeth were larger than those of any other known sabre-tooth.
To shed light on the predatory behaviour in the pouched Thylacosmilus atrox`s mystery, Wroe`s team of Australian and US scientists constructed and compared sophisticated computer models of Smilodon - iconic North American sabre-toothed `tiger` - and Thylacosmilus atrox, as well as a living conical-toothed cat, the leopard.
These models were digitally `crash-tested` in simulations of biting and killing behaviour.
Wroe said that his team found that both sabre-tooth species were similar in possessing weak jaw-muscle-driven bites compared to the leopard, but the mechanical performance of the sabre-tooth s skulls showed that they were both well-adapted to resist forces generated by very powerful neck muscles.
He asserted that compared to the placental Smilodon, Thylacosmilus atrox was even more extreme.
Wroe explained that with its jaws wide open the 80-100 kg Thylacosmilus atrox had a bite less powerful than a domestic cat; however, its skull easily outperformed that of the placental Smilodon in response to strong forces from hypothetical neck muscles.
He added that the huge sabres of Thylacosmilus atrox were driven home by the neck muscles alone with surprising precision.
The result has been published in the journal PLoS ONE.