Sabre-toothed cat, also called sabre-toothed tiger or sabre-toothed lion, any of the extinct catlike carnivores belonging to either the extinct family Nimravidae or the subfamily Machairodontinae of the cat family (Felidae).
Named for the pair of elongated bladelike canine teeth in their upper jaw, they are often called sabre-toothed tigers or sabre-toothed lions, although the modern lion and tiger are true cats of the subfamily Felinae.
Sabre-toothed cats existed from the Eocene through the Pleistocene Epoch (56 million to 11,700 years ago).
According to the fossil record, the Nimravidae were extant from about 37 million to 7 million years ago. Only distantly related to felids, they include the genera Hoplophoneus, Nimravus, Dinictis, and Barbourofelis.
The Machairodontinae, extant from about 12 million to less than 10,000 years ago, include the more familiar Smilodon as well as Homotherium and Meganteron. Sabre-toothed cats roamed North America and Europe throughout the Miocene and Pliocene epochs (23 million to 2.6 million years ago).
By Pliocene times, they had spread to Asia and Africa. During the Pleistocene, sabre-toothed cats were also present in South America.