Skeletal-injury frequency and distribution are likely to reflect hunting behaviour in predatory vertebrates and might therefore differ between species with distinct hunting modes. Two Pleistocene predators from the Rancho La Brea asphalt seeps, the sabre-tooth cat, Smilodon fatalis, and dire wolf, Canis dirus, represent ambush and pursuit predators, respectively. On the basis of a collection of over 1,900 pathological elements, the frequency of traumatic injury across skeletal elements in these two species was calculated. Here we show that the frequency of trauma in the sabre-tooth cat exceeds that of the dire wolf (4.3% compared to 2.8%), implying that the killing behaviour of S. fatalis entailed greater risk of injury. The distribution of traumatic injuries also differed between the two species. S. fatalis, an ambush predator, was injured more often than expected across the lumbar vertebrae and shoulders whereas C. dirus, a pursuit predator, had higher than expected levels of injury in the limbs and cervical vertebrae. Spatial analysis was used to quantify differences in the distribution of putative hunting injuries. Analysis of injury locations discriminated true hotspots from injury-dense areas and facilitated interpretation of predatory behaviour, demonstrating the use of spatial analyses in the study of vertebrate behaviour and evolution. These results suggest that differences in trauma distribution reflect distinct hazards of each species’ hunting mode.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $9.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Stewart, T. in The First Americans: Origins, Affinities, and Adaptations (eds Laughlin, W . & Harper, A. ) 257–274 (Fischer, 1979).
Jurmain, R. D. The pattern of involvement of appendicular degenerative joint disease. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 53, 143–150 (1980).
Bridges, P. S. Prehistoric arthritis in the Americas. Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 21, 67–91 (1992).
Bridges, P. S. Vertebral arthritis and physical activities in the prehistoric southeastern United States. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 93, 83–93 (1994).
Berger, T. D. & Trinkaus, E. Patterns of trauma among the Neandertals. J. Archaeol. Sci. 22, 841–852 (1995).
Carbone, C., Teacher, A. & Rowcliffe, J. M. The costs of carnivory. PLoS Biol. 5, 363–368 (2007).
Mukherjee, S. & Heithaus, M. R. Dangerous prey and daring predators: a review. Biol. Rev. 8, 550–563 (2013).
Stock, C. Rancho La Brea: A Record of Pleistocene Life in California 7th edn (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1992).
Fuller, B. T ., Harris, J. M ., Farrell, A. B ., Takeuchi, G. T & Southon, J. R. in La Brea and beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas (ed Harris, J. M. ) 42, 151–167 (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series, 2015).
Herrmann, N. GIS applied to bioarchaeology: an example from the Rio Talgua caves in Northeast Honduras. J. Cave Karst Stud. 64, 17–22 (2002).
Jennings, D. S. & Hasiotis, S. T. Taphonomic analysis of a dinosaur feeding site using geographic information systems (GIS), Morrison Formation, southern Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA. Palaios 21, 480–492 (2006).
Marean, C. W., Abe, Y., Nilssen, P. J. & Stone, E. C. Estimating the minimum number of skeletal elements (MNE) in zooarchaeology: a review and a new image-analysis GIS approach. Am. Antiquity 66, 333–348 (2001).
Parkinson, J. A. A GIS Image Analysis Approach to Documenting Oldowan Hominin Carcass Acquisition: Evidence from Kanjera South, FLK Zinj, and Neotaphonomic Models of Carnivore Bone Destruction. PhD thesis, City Univ. New York (2013).
Parkinson, J. A., Plummer, T. W. & Bose, R. A GIS-based approach to documenting large canid damage to bones. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclim. Palaeoecol. 409, 57–71 (2014).
Parkinson, J. A., Plummer, T. W. & Hartstone-Rose, A. Characterizing felid tooth marking and gross bone damage patterns using GIS image analysis: an experimental feeding study with large felids. J. Human Evol. 80, 114–134 (2015).
Garb, J. L., Ganai, S., Skinner, R., Boyd, C. S. & Wait, R. B. Using GIS for spatial analysis of rectal lesions in the human body. Int. J. Health Geogr. 6, 11 (2007).
Andersson, K. & Werdelin, L. The evolution of cursorial carnivores in the Tertiary: implications of elbow-joint morphology. Proc. R. Soc. B. 270, S163–S165 (2003).
Figueirido, B., Martín-Serra, A., Tseng, Z. J. & Janis C. M. Habitat changes and changing predatory habits in North American fossil canids. Nat. Commun. 6, 7976 (2015).
Gonyea, W. J. Behavioral implications of saber-toothed felid morphology. Paleobiology 2, 332–342 (1976).
Anyonge, W. Locomotor behavior in Plio–Pleistocene saber-tooth cats: a biomechanical analysis. J. Zool. 238, 395–413 (1996).
Antón, M. Sabertooth (Indiana Univ. Press, 2013).
Malcolm, J. W. & Van Lawick, H. Notes on wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) hunting zebras. Mammalia 39, 231–240 (1975).
Mech, L. D. Wolf (Doubleday, 2012).
Binder, W. J., Thompson, E. N. & Van Valkenburgh, B. Temporal variation in tooth fracture among Rancho La Brea dire wolves. J. Vert. Paleontol. 22, 423–428 (2002).
Van Valkenburgh, B. Costs of carnivory: tooth fracture in Pleistocene and recent carnivorans. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 96, 68–81 (2009).
Hartstone-Rose A . et al. in La Brea and beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas (ed Harris, J. M. ) 42, 53–64 (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series, 2015).
Scott, E ., Rega, E ., Scott, K ., Bennett, B & Sumida, S. in La Brea and beyond: The Paleontology of Asphalt-Preserved Biotas (ed. Harris, J. M. ) 42, 33–36 (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Science Series, 2015).
Ware, S. Disease, Skeletal Injury and Trauma as possible Behavior Modifiers in the Fossil Dire Wolf Canis Dirus (Canidae: Carnivora) from Rancho La Brea, California. PhD thesis, Union Inst. Univ. (2005).
Rothschild, B. M. & Martin, L. D. in The Other Saber-Tooths: Scimitar-Tooth Cats of The Western Hemisphere (eds Naples, V. L ., Martin, L. D ., & Babiarz, J. P. ) 35–41 (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2011).
Heald, F & Shaw, C. in Great Cats. Majestic Creatures of the Wild (eds. Seidensticker, J. & Lumpkin, S. ) 26–27 (Rodale Press, 1991).
Shaw C. A. Old wounds: the paleopathology of Rancho La Brea. Terra 31, 17 (1992).
Bedrosian, B. E. & St. Pierre, A. M. Frequency of injury in three raptor species wintering in northeastern Arkansas. Wilson J. Ornithol. 119, 296–298 (2007).
Roth, A. J., Jones, G. S. & French, T. W. Incidence of naturally healed fractures in the pectoral bones of American accipiters. J. Raptor Res. 36, 229–230 (2002).
Wobeser, G. Traumatic, degenerative, and developmental lesions in wolves and coyotes from Saskatchewan. J. Wildl. Diseases 28, 268–275 (1992).
Van Valkenburgh, B., Hayward, M. W., Ripple, W. J., Meloro, C. & Roth, V. L. The impact of large terrestrial carnivores on Pleistocene ecosystems. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 862–867 (2016).
Akersten, W. A. Canine Function in Smilodon (Mammalia: Felidae: Machairodontinae) (Contributions in Science number 356, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1985).
Bramblett, C. A. Pathology in the Darajani baboon. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 26, 331–340 (1967).
Buikstra, J. E. Healed fractures in Macaca mulatta: age, sex and symmetry. Folia Primatol. 23, 140–148 (1975).
Harris, S. Injuries to foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in suburban London. J. Zool. 186, 567–572 (1978).
Kano, T. Observations of physical abnormalities among the wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) of Wamba, Zaire. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 63, 1–11 (1984).
Wilkins, L. et al. Methods of assessing health and diet of Florida panthers (Puma concolor) using museum specimens. Part 1. Osteology as a means of assessing Florida panther health. Bull. Florida State Mus. Nat. Hist. 47, 74–98 (2007).
Van Valkenburgh, B. & Hertel, F. Tough times at La Brea: tooth breakage in large carnivores of the late Pleistocene. Science 261, 456–459 (1993).
Marcellin-Little, D. J ., Levine, D & Taylor, R. Rehabilitation and conditioning of sporting dogs. Vet. Clin. North Amer. Small Anim. Practice. 35, 1427–1439 (2005).
Davis, P. E. Toe and muscle injuries of the racing greyhound. NZ Veter. J. 21, 133–146 (1973).
Worth, A. J., Danielsson, F., Bray, J. P., Burbidge, H. M. & Bruce, W. J. Ability to work and owner satisfaction following surgical repair of common calcaneal tendon injuries in working dogs in New Zealand. NZ Vet. J. 52, 109–116 (2004).
Vaughan, L. C. Gracilis muscle injury in greyhounds. J. Small Anim. Practice. 10, 363–375 (1969).
Meachen-Samuels, J. A. & Van Valkenburgh B. Radiographs reveal exceptional forelimb strength in the sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis. PLoS ONE 5, e11412 (2010).
Carbyn, L. N., Oosenbrug, S. & Anions, D. W. Wolves, Bison and the Dynamics related to the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park (Canadian Circumpolar Institute Press, 1993).
Van Valkenburgh, B. & Ruff, C. B. Canine tooth strength and killing behaviour in large carnivores. J. Zool. 212, 379–397 (1987).
White, T. E. A method of calculating the dietary percentage of various food animals utilized by Aboriginal peoples. Am. Antiq. 18, 396–398 (1953).
How Optimized Hot Spot Analysis works. esrihttp://pro.arcgis.com/en/pro-app/tool-reference/spatial-statistics/how-optimized-hot-spot-analysis-works.htm (2016).
How Average Nearest Neighbor Distance (Spatial Statistics) works. esrihttp://resources.esri.com/help/9.3/ArcGISDesktop/com/Gp_ToolRef/spatial_statistics_tools/how_average_nearest_neighbor_distance_spatial_statistics_works.htm (2016).
F. Heald spent two decades analysing pathologies prior to his death in 2000, and for this we are grateful. We thank A. Farrell, G. Takeuchi and S. Cox of the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum for their help. J. Parkinson, M. Shin and A. Kochapu provided helpful advice on methods. For comments on the paper, we thank the Van Valkenburgh laboratory. J. Keller, T. Galea and K. Keeley helped create the GIS dataset. This work was supported by National Science Foundation grant SGP-1237928.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Brown, C., Balisi, M., Shaw, C. et al. Skeletal trauma reflects hunting behaviour in extinct sabre-tooth cats and dire wolves. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0131 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0131
Communications Biology (2020)