Saber-toothed cat (Smilidon californicus)
Of all the mammals trapped in the tar pits at La Brea, the most widely known is the saber-toothed cat, or often wrongly referred as the saber-toothed tiger. It has no close living relative, but could be compared in size and stature to the modern African lion. Approximately 2,000 individual specimens have been recovered from La Brea.
The saber-toothed cat had very powerful front legs, a short tail, and the famous large canine incisor teeth, which were minimum six inches in length in adult cats. Its physical attributes suggest that the saber-toothed cat used stealth and ambush to capture its prey rather than speed.
The individual fossils often show signs of disease or healed injuries which would have crippled the animal, suggesting that the saber-toothed cat were social creatures which hunted and lived in packs, much like the African lion, where the old and sick are fed and provided for.