Ancient Lion With "Bolt Cutter" Jaws: Best Killer Ever?

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The ancient predator would ambush prey many times its own size and weight and rapidly dispatch the victim with devastating jaws.

The marsupial lion's skull "looks very well-adapted to resist the stresses from a slicing bite with huge carnassials, or cheek teeth," he said, adding that the teeth resembled "massive bolt cutter-like blades."

"Perhaps the marsupial lion was using those huge carnassials and bite force to slice into vulnerable parts of the prey animal—the throat region would be an obvious one," he said.

The animal apparently killed with catastrophic trauma, slicing through major blood vessels or the windpipe, resulting in a relatively rapid death.

The lion likely preyed on giant kangaroos, wombats, and diprotodontids—3.3-ton marsupial herbivores—that disappeared (along with the killer lion) between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago.

(Related news: "Ice Age Marsupial Topped Three Tons, Scientists Say" [October 17, 2003].)

Nasty Animal

Gavin Prideaux, a paleontologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, was not involved in the research.

"It was probably the sort of beast that hung around water holes or wherever big herbivores congregated," he said of the lion.

(See a picture of an African water hole.)

"One of the questions that still needs to be answered is whether it was a pack hunter or not."

The predator also had retractable claws and semiopposable thumbs, Prideaux said.

"They were designed to hang on. Once they got a hold of you, you wouldn't have been going anywhere.

"It would have been a pretty nasty animal."

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