It was a fierce predator about 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) long and 3 feet (0.9 m) tall. It weighed about 440 lbs (200 kg). It was a bit smaller than a modern-day lion (Panthera leo), but much heavier.It had relatively short legs and a short, bobbed tail. Its front legs were especially powerful. Its body was adapted for springing onto prey, but it was not a very fast runner.Its 12-inch-long (30 cm) skull had 2 huge canine teeth. These saber-like teeth were serrated, oval in cross-section, and up to 7 inches (18 cm) long. Many Smilodon fossils have been found with broken canines; a fossil wolf was found with a Smilodon tooth fragment embedded in its skull. Smilodon had powerful jaws that opened to an angle of about 120°. Today's lions can only open their jaws 65°. Smilodon also had very strong jaw and neck muscles that let it stab prey with its deadly teeth.
Smilodon first appeared about 1.6 million years ago. This ferocious cat went extinct about 11,000 years ago. It lived during the last Ice Age, in which the Earth got much colder than it is now. Ice sheets and glaciers covered much of the land and sea levels fell as sea water froze into polar ice and glaciers. It lived during the Pleistocene Epoch (the early part of the Quaternary Period) During the last Ice Age, there were many large, interesting mammals, like the saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, mastodons, and mammoths. These animals have long since gone extinct and are known mostly from fossils, frozen, mummified carcasses, and from ancient cave drawings. The pressures of a major climate change probably led to their extinction; human hunting may have made their situation even worse.Saber-tooth cats lived in grasslands, shrubby areas, and pine forests that supported the plant-eating animals that saber-tooth cats ate.Smilodon was a carnivore, a meat-eater. This ferocious hunter may have eaten thick-skinned prey like mastodons (hairy, extinct elephants), horses, and bison. It probably ambushed its prey since its short legs limited its running speed. Its hunting strategy may have been to mortally wound its prey with its saber-like teeth, probably in the belly, and let the victim bleed to death. Smilodon, like most meat-eaters, may also have been a scavenger.Thousands of Smilodon fossils have been found in late Pleistocene tar pits and rocks from North America (S. californicus, which is the California State Fossil, and S. fatalis have been found in California) and South America (S. populator has been found in Argentina).