Ice Age Predators Suffered from Joint Ailments: Insights from Sabertooth Cats and Dire Wolves

by Hiroshi Tanaka
Ice Age predators joint diseases

A study examining over 1,500 limb bones from the La Brea Tar Pits revealed a significant prevalence of osteochondrosis in the joints of Ice Age sabertooth cats and dire wolves. This finding draws parallels between the health of these ancient creatures and modern domestic animals, as reported by

High Rates of Osteochondrosis Detected in Extinct Predators

Research published in PLOS ONE by Hugo Schmökel from Evidensia Academy, Sweden, and his team, uncovered widespread joint bone disease in Ice Age sabertooth cats and dire wolves.

Osteochondrosis in Prehistoric Creatures

Osteochondrosis, a bone development disorder affecting vertebrate joints, is commonly observed in humans and domestic animals but rarely documented in wild species. Schmökel and colleagues found evidence of this disease in the fossilized limb bones of Ice Age sabertooth cats (Smilodon fatalis) and dire wolves (Aenocyon dirus) dating back approximately 55,000 to 12,000 years ago.

La Brea Tar Pits Research Yields New Insights

An extensive examination of over 1,500 limb bones from sabertooth cats and dire wolves at the La Brea Tar Pits revealed osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), particularly in shoulder and knee joints. The occurrence of this condition was noted to be as high as 7% in the studied bones, a figure notably higher than in current species.

Exploring Further Implications and Research Directions

The research, confined to a single fossil site, suggests the need for further investigations at other sites to understand the disease’s prevalence and impact on these animals’ lifestyles, such as their hunting capabilities. The high incidence of OCD, commonly seen in inbred domestic dogs, might also hint at population decline in these ancient species nearing extinction.

Connections Drawn Between Ancient and Modern Animal Ailments

The researchers note that this study contributes to the understanding of Smilodon and dire wolf paleopathology, facilitated by the large sample sizes available at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. The collaboration between paleontologists and veterinarians underscores the shared health conditions between these extinct predators and contemporary household pets.

Reference: Schmökel, H., Farrell, A., and Balisi, M.F. (2023). “Subchondral defects resembling osteochondrosis dissecans in joint surfaces of the extinct saber-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis and dire wolf Aenocyon dirus.” PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0287656

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ice Age predators joint diseases

What did the study on Ice Age predators at the La Brea Tar Pits reveal?

The study revealed that Ice Age predators such as sabertooth cats and dire wolves suffered from high rates of osteochondrosis, a joint disease, in their limb bones, suggesting similarities with modern domestic animals’ health issues.

How was osteochondrosis detected in ancient species like sabertooth cats and dire wolves?

Osteochondrosis was detected through the examination of over 1,500 fossil limb bones from sabertooth cats and dire wolves at the La Brea Tar Pits, showing small defects consistent with the disease, particularly in shoulder and knee joints.

What is the significance of finding osteochondrosis in these extinct predators?

The discovery of osteochondrosis in sabertooth cats and dire wolves offers insights into the health and lifestyle of these extinct species. It also provides a comparison with modern domestic animals, indicating common health ailments across epochs.

How does this research contribute to our understanding of Ice Age predators?

This research enhances our understanding of the health and potentially the hunting abilities of Ice Age predators. It also opens avenues for further studies on the prevalence of osteochondrosis in ancient species and its impact on their lives.

What future research directions does this study suggest?

The study suggests further exploration at other fossil sites to understand the prevalence and impact of osteochondrosis. It also raises questions about the hunting capabilities of these predators and the implications of inbreeding, as indicated by the high incidence of the disease.

More about Ice Age predators joint diseases

  • Article on Ice Age Predator Study
  • PLOS ONE: Osteochondrosis Research Paper
  • La Brea Tar Pits & Museum
  • Evidensia Academy Research Overview
  • Article on Sabertooth Cats and Dire Wolves in Natural History Magazine
  • Study on Joint Diseases in Ancient and Modern Animals

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MikeJohnson December 22, 2023 - 1:48 pm

interesting study, always wondered what those big cats and wolves were like, health-wise. good to see research bridging gaps between the past and present!

SarahK December 22, 2023 - 4:28 pm

wow, never would’ve thought that sabertooths and dire wolves had the same joint issues as my dog, nature is so fascinating and kinda sad too.

HistoryBuff101 December 22, 2023 - 4:41 pm

This is pretty cool but how accurate can we be just from bones? still, la brea tar pits always giving us new insights, gotta love it.

Emma_G December 22, 2023 - 5:09 pm

kind of a bummer to think these majestic creatures had health problems like modern animals. Makes them seem less mythical and more real.

ScienceGeek December 23, 2023 - 2:41 am

Its amazing how much we can learn from fossils, osteochondrosis in Ice Age predators? who would’ve guessed. Props to the researchers for this work!


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