Sabertooth diaries 1: excavating old sketches

As the publication of my book  “Sabertooth” comes closer, I am trying to put some order in the mass of material I have been working with during the last few years. It is interesting to leaf through those fat folders full of sketches, some of them dating from MANY years ago: it refreshes my memory about some of the main subjects I have dealt with in the book, and in fact, it motivates me to tackle some of these subjects again, in anticipation for the next book (title to be disclosed at some point in the future…).

Here are some of those “paleo-sketches” (in the whole sense of the word!). They date from more than 15 years ago (Gosh!) and were  my early attempts to put together observations about key aspects of big cat anatomy, especially related to hunting:

Smilodon hunting sequence sketch 1 (150)

Sketch 1 (above) shows the sequence of events during a hypothetical hunt by the sabertooth Smilodon: the chase (top); the wrestling struggle (middle); and the killing bite (bottom).

Smilodon hunting sequence sketch 2 (150)


Sketch 2 shows the crucial point when the cat attempts to pull a large prey down to the ground, and it highlights some of the muscles relevant for that action.

cheetah-anatomy-sketch-1 (150)


Sketch 3 shows aspects of the anatomy of the cheetah, with special attention to the lumbar vertebrae.  For the fun of it, I also included a body size comparison betwen the modern cheetah and the extinct species Acinonyx pardinensis.  Back then I was already puzzled by the possible meaning of the changes in body proportions during the evolution of sabertooths, and in particular in the shortening of the lumbar vertebra in many species.

big cat skeleton proportions (150)

Sketch 4 compares the “primitive” skeletal porportions of the early cat Pseudaelurus (left) with those of the very different cheetah (Acinonyx) and sabertooth (Smilodon). Obviously, the skeletons and cats are not shown to scale.

(these drawings do not appear in the book or anywhere else  in this form, so this is a sort of exclusive…)

In the years after I did these sketches I have found many fascinating things about these aspects of felid anatomy, which I have tried to reflect in the new book  These days I am preparing a short video about some of these things, I expect to be posting it soon!


Posted on 31/01/2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Dear Mauricio, thanks for a magnificient work on the functional anatomy of sabre-toothed felids. The combination of such high quality reconstructions with your huge knowledge of the anatomy of both extinct and extant felids has produced this superb piece of scientific research. We will keep learning from your work

  2. Magnífico trabajo Mauricio. Riguroso y preciosista. Mi hija dice que de mayor quiere ser como tú. Tendrás que ponerle deberes,ya…hace falta MUCHO esfuerzo, trabajo, estudio y empeño para eso.

  3. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, I love these sketches and work on the musculature. The highlight on those powerful muscles is fantastic. I cannot wait for the book to come out!

  4. Dear Mauricio, thank you very much for bringing back to us (again) the fascinating lost world of saber-toothed cats and other extant and extinct felids. The excellent book “Big Cats and their fossil relatives” written with (our mutual and early passed away friend) Alan Turner is a one of the best and easy accessible books (for scientists and layman) ever published on this subject. Your highly detailed reconstructions are always a feast for the eyes and with your new book, including a DVD, also for the ears. The combination of your artistic skills and scientific knowledge are unique and unbeatable. All your publications are a true contribution to science. As you know I follow your impressive work and research since many decennia. I am looking forward to your new book and highly recommend (even unseen) everybody interested in the subject to acquire this endless source of information and appealing to the eye illustrations.

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