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Vanderbilt University paleontologist researching history of Nashville Predators namesake

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Posted at 8:40 AM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-30 09:55:23-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Nashville Predators hockey team is named for saber-toothed cats, which lived for millions of years, including in Tennessee.

"I've always been fascinated by these animals," Larisa DeSantis said, while holding the skull of the extinct animal.

DeSantis is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University and a vertebrate paleontologist.

"They were no doubt top predators on the earth," DeSantis said. "Although the saber-toothed cats were essentially killing machines...the injured cats actually ate softer foods, which means maybe other cats were allowing them access to their kills. They were compassionate."

For most of the last ten years, she has studied their teeth at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Interestingly, Nashville had its own run-in with saber-toothed cat remains in the seventies, which explains the origin of the hockey team's name.

Twenty-six years before the hockey team formed, a fang and a leg of a prehistoric cat were found during an excavation of a cave beneath downtown. Some of the story is shared in a display at Bridgestone Arena.

The first game of the Predators regular season is Thursday, October 3.