RECONSTRUCTION’S UNKNOWABLES: SABERTOOTH FIGHTING DISPLAY
Many of the features that make a big cat species unique and unmistakable would be totally unknowable if we only had their fossils. Take for instance the lion´s mane or the tiger’s stripes. If only the other, more “conservative” pantherine species were around (leopard, jaguar, snow leopard), we would have no clue that their large cousins were striped or maned.
Such examples are a good reason for being humbly skeptic about our reconstructions, but at the same time they invite us to some playful speculation, as in the case of this scene showing a pair of rival males of the saberttooth Lokotunjailurus.
Lokotunjailurus was as tall as a lioness, but lighter and less strong. Yet, like most of its living relatives (members of the Feliformia from lion to aardwolf to civet), it would have its own ways to look bigger and more impressive when it needed to. The most widespread way to do so is the presence of erectile manes or crests along the dorsal parts of the neck, the back and even the tail. We all know how an alarmed house cat can puff its hair to look twice as big, and our instant reaction is to give the animal some room!
That is why I have speculated about the possible presence of a light colored mane in the males of Lokotunjailurus, somewhat similar to what we see in juvenile cheetahs. We have of course no evidence that it would be there, but on one hand it would make sense in an animal that was well armed but something of a lightweight, and on the other hand such erectile hairs are widely present in terrestrial carnivorans, and more especially in members of the feliformia, so that the speculation is not too far-fetched.
Unknowable as such attributes are, at least they allow us not to reconstruct all sabertooths alike in terms if their fur patterns!