Original image
Getty Images

8 Prehistoric Saber-Toothed Animals

Original image
Getty Images

The first Ice Age movie hit theaters in 2002and with it came the cinematic debut of “Scrat," an accident-prone saber-toothed squirrel with an insatiable lust for acorns (as of this writing, the manic critter’s Facebook page has netted more than 12,000 “likes”). Although Scrat is a fictitious animal, these distinctive canines were donned by a vast array of prehistoric creatures from cats and marsupials to deer and even salmon. Here are eight of the most unusual.

1. Gorgonops: A Whiskered Predator

Wikimedia Commons

Named for the gorgon of Greek mythology, Gorgonops stalked the plains of South Africa some 250 million years ago—long before the first dinosaur came along.

Intriguingly, however, this killer and its relatives (“gorgonopsians”) were much more closely-akin to us, even sporting whiskers and (according to some) scale-less skin. In recent years, gorgonopsians have gained publicity as frequent antagonists on the time-traveling BBC series Primeval.

2. Machaeroides: The First Saber-Toothed Mammal

Wikimedia Commons

As far as true mammals are concerned, Machaeroides is the earliest known. Stout and powerfully built, this terrier-sized carnivore lived approximately 40 million years ago in modern-day Wyoming.

3. Uintatherium: A Bizarre Herbivore

Wikimedia Commons

Saber teeth proved to be remarkably versatile throughout the course of evolution. Hence, just as they’d be used to disembowel hapless victims by an assortment of predatory felines, these mysterious mammals likely employed them for gathering aquatic plants and territorial disputes. Another distinctive feature is the quartet of knobs (scientifically dubbed “ossicones”) atop their prehistoric noggins.

For a stop-motion and massively-oversized Uintatherium (in reality, they were roughly the size of a modern white rhino), check out this 1992 Nissin Cup-O-Noodle Ad:

4. Longistromeryx: A Saber-Toothed Deer

Four separate species of this Nebraskan genus are known to science. The function of their odd canines remains something of a mystery, but the official website of Ashfall Fossil Beds State Park highlights some of the bizarre company it kept 12 million years ago.

5. Oncorhynchus rastrosus: A Salmon With A Nasty Bite

Wikimedia Commons

Native to the rivers and streams of Ice Age Oregon and California, this saber-toothed salmon reached more than six feet in length—an absolutely massive size by salmon standards. According to paleo-ichthyologists (prehistoric fish experts), its closest living relative is the sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka). 

6. Smilodon: The Legendary Saber-Toothed Cat

Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History

In actuality, there were more than a dozen species of “saber-toothed cat" (none of which, by the way, was a tiger). But Smilodon is by far the best-known: More than 100 specimens have been unearthed at the La Brea Tar Pits alone. But how did the animal whose Latin name literally means “knife tooth” use its dreaded sabers? No consensus exists, but there’s certainly no shortage of ideas. These include relying on powerful forelimbs to subdue prey before severing its windpipe and throwing back their heads and repeatedly jabbing their target. A particularly speculative hypothesis holds that they may have even been “blood-sucking” tools.

7. Thylacosmilus: A Prehistoric ‘Copy Cat’

Wikimedia Commons

Convergent Evolution” is a term used to describe “the independent emergence of similar traits and body outlines in unrelated organisms." Often, the life forms in question are separated by thousands of miles, as in the case of the aforementioned Smilodon and Thylacosmilus—a marsupial-like carnivore from present-day South America.

8. Gomphotaria: A Four-Tusked Walrus

Wikimedia Commons

Denver Museum of Nature and Science paleontologist Kirk Johnson once correctly observed that “walruses are saber-toothed seals.” Particularly well-endowed was Gomphotaria, which lived off the North American western seaboard and boasted two sets of saber-teeth. These were rooted in the marine mammal’s upper and lower jaws. A rather technical account on these fascinating beasts can be seen here.

Original image
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
Original image

Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

Original image
Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
Original image

Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at


More from mental floss studios