On display at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, Kansas — it’s a saber-toothed cat:
The saber-toothed cats are an amazingly broad group of creatures, since they consist of six different subfamilies, tracing their lineages to animals that independently evolved similar-looking features at least four separate times. So this is the irony of the saber-toothed cats — we still aren’t sure how they used their saber-like canines, but the teeth apparently provided such great survival advantages that they appeared over and over again in unrelated lineages.
Four. Separate. Times.
Such is the power behind convergent evolution.
At any rate, this is an example of the sixth (most-recent) group of saber-toothed cats, of the genus Smilodon. It’s the only one of the saber-toothed groups that’s closely-related to modern-day wild cats (i.e., part of the Felidae biological family). They were endemic to North and South America during the Pelistocene — from 2.5 million to about 10,000 years ago. It’s thought that they evolved to hunt the megafauna of the age, so they died out along when their prey went extinct and were replaced by smaller species. The usual controversy surrounds this mass extinction — did all these species die out because of the time’s changing climate (although many had survived a number of interglacials), or was their extinction “assisted” by the corresponding arrival of humans in the Americas?
The display sadly does not identify which Smilodon species this skeleton belongs to, or where it was collected.