The Scratching Log

Blog for Ratha series home-page website. Posted by author Clare Bell.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ratha's Creatures - Shongshar

Ratha’s Creatures

What is Shongshar? A sabertooth cat?

In Clan Ground, Ratha admits Orange-Eyes, an UnNamed stranger, to the clan. Later, when Ratha angers him by taking away his cubs by Bira (since they lack the Named “light” in their eyes), he becomes the fierce and arrogant Shongshar. He drives Ratha out of the clan and nearly kills Fessran with his long fangs.

Some readers think that Shongshar is based on the sabertooth cat Smilodon, a different species than Ratha’s kind, who are based on the cheetah-like nimravid, Dinaelurus. Smilodon, however, evolved millions of years later than Ratha’s people, appearing in the Pleistocene. The Miocene nimravids, on which Ratha is based, had both sabertooth and “conical tooth” species. Barburofelis, a distant Ratha relative, out-sabered the later Smilodon. Barburofelis had huge fangs that were so long they needed to be protected by a large bony flange on the animal’s jaw.

Even the more cat-like “conical tooth” nimravid species, such as Nimravus and Dinaelurus, had longer fangs than many cats. Nimravus, being more like a leopard or a clouded leopard, had longer fangs than Dinaelurus. Clouded leopards have the longest front fangs in the modern cat family for their size. The whole nimravid family had strong sabertooth tendencies. I often compare Ratha’s kind with the modern cheetah, but fossil Dinaelurus skulls have longer and sharper front fangs than do cheetahs. (See my reconstruction of a Dinaelurus crassus skull in clay).

Saberteeth have arisen in many mammalian lines. Creodonts, which were early, less specialized carnivores that arose long before cats were even a thought in Nature’s mind, had weasel- and martin-like forms with saberteeth. Nimravids gave rise to Dinictis, often called a “dirktooth” cats and Homotherium, known as the “scimitar-tooth” cat. Many of Ratha’s relatives are known as “false sabertooths” to distinguish them from the later “true sabertooths” of the Smilodon line.

Sabertoothed forms also arose among marsupials (kangaroos, opossums and other pouched mammals. Thylacosmilus, a lion-sized South American fossil marsupial carnivore, would have given Barburofelis competition for the nasty-saber award.

Saber-like teeth have emerged in many species, including primates. Some male baboons have fangs that make leopards think twice about attacking.

So, back to old Shongshar. What is he? Well, all of the UnNamed and the Named are the same basic species, although the Named have branched off in their own direction. Dinaelurus and the more leopard-like Nimravus were close sister-species and might have been able to hybridize.

As stated previously, all the nimravids had a tendency to develop saberteeth and Shongshar was an extreme case. Or he is a hybrid between Dinaelurus and Nimravus.

(Or he is a Smilodon that time-traveled back from the Pleistocene to the Miocene – no, just kidding. Or you can write that story.)

When you first read Clan Ground, what did you think Shongshar was (other than a big pain in Ratha’s tail)?



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