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Barbourofelis
Barbouofelis lovei
Name Barbourofelis
Order Carnivora
Family Barbourofelidae
Class Mammalia
Period Late Miocene
Location North America
Diet Meat
Length 1-2 metres (3-6 feet) long

Barbourofelis is an extinct genus of large carnivorous mammals of the family Barbourofelidae (false sabre-tooth cats) endemic to North America, during the Miocene from 16-9 million years ago and existed for approximately 8 million years.

Barbourofelis is a saber-toothed feliform, making it a separate genus remarkably similar to members of the cat family (Felidae), which are more distantly related. Barbourofelids first appeared about 16 million years ago during the Miocene to Pleistocene and were widely distributed in Africa, Eurasia and North America.

The largest species known was Barbourofelis fricki which lived in North America, having reached the size of a modern lion, but has superior in weight due to its unusually strong physique. Barburofelis lovei was the size of a jaguar. The skull of Barburofelis was shortened to a greater degree than in machairodont cats such as Smilodon. The lower jaw, as well as sabre-toothed predators have all been relatively weak, the lower teeth are not large, the set of teeth is shortened. On the lower jaw bone, there were specific processes that are characteristic for the early sabre-toothed cats, but more pronounced than in the past. A very interesting structure of the rear limb girdle of Barburofelis. The pelvis of the predator was more extended than that of the cat with more developed iliac bones, which may suggest that Barburofelis was more stable, rising on the feet and striking the front, as is often done in modern cats.

While the species B. fricki is thought to have been a lion-sized animal, other species in the genus, such as B. morrisi are believed to have been closer to the size of leopards. Species in this genus had the longest canines of all the barbourofelids, which were also flattened, indicating a high degree of specialization to its diet. These canines had a longitudinal groove on the lateral surface that has been falsely described as a mean of allowing blood from a wound they have inflicted to flow away. This groove more likely was an adaptation to make the canines lighter while maintaining their strength. Other notable traits include the presence of a postorbital bar, the presence of a ventrally extended mental process (bony extensions on either side of the lower jaw), and the shortening of the skull behind the orbits. It had a very robust constitution, with B. morrisi as intermediate between the size of Sansanosmilus and B. fricki, which is thought to have been a particularly large predator, large individuals of B. fricki have been reconstructed with shoulder heights of around 90 cm (2 ft 11 in). The barbourofelid was probably very stocky in build, resembling a bear-like lion or lion-like bear. Based on its foot structure, species of Barbourofelis might have had a semi-plantigrade walking stance, making it intermediate between flat-footed carnivorans like bears and digitigrade walkers such as true cats, which walk on their toes. As a result, Barbourofelis was likely faster than a bear, but slower than modern cats. Barbourofelis fricki also had a very small brain compared to its body size; its brain was similar in size to a bobcat's, indicating it was not as intelligent as later feliformes or true felids. Barbourofelis also had large carnassial teeth, meant for efficiently processing a carcass, indicating it lived in a highly competitive ecosystem or that it was social and would feed in a competitive, frenzied manner in order to eat as much as other members of its family group. Perhaps a combination of both scenarios was possible.

The skeletons of juvenile Barbourofelis have been found, and examination of their skeletons indicates that the cubs would reach near-adult size before their milk sabers would begin to erupt. This indicates that they were dependent on their mother or potential family group until well into their second year. Such a long period of dependence would have likely led to situations in which near-adult cubs would have likely helped to restrain prey while their mother made the kill. Such behavior potentially was a foundation for more extensive social ties in later feliformes and felids.

Paleoecology

Barbourofelis fricki's environment in the Love Bone Beds deposits (of Clarendonian Age) was a mixture of grassland, riverine forest, and marshes, in which it would have shared territory with herbivorous animals like the amphibious rhinoceros Teleoceras, the protoceratid Synthetoceras, the camel Aepycamelus, horses like Neohipparion and Nannippus, and carnivores like the Machairodont cat Nimravides, the dogs Epicyon and Osteoborus, and the bear Agriotherium. During the following stage, the Hemphillian, Barbourofelis fricki shared territory with the machairodont species Amphimachairodus coloradensis. Both genera of machairodont, as well as the bear Agriotherium and the dogs Epicyon and Osteoborus would have presented competition to the barbourofelid, while any and all of the large animals present were potential prey species.

In Popular Culture

Barbourofelis was heavily featured in the Paleoworld episode "Dawn of the Cats".