Carnivora (Carnivores)


Carnivores are terrestrial or aquatic predators that usually consume other animals as a major part of their diet.

Keywords: carnivores; carnassial teeth; oligocene; fossil; monophyletic

Figure 1.

Body plan of a carnivore showing dental and skeletal specializations for a predatory lifestyle. (From Macdonald (1984), with permission.) (a) The skull of a carnivore as exemplified by the grey wolf. (b) Carnassial teeth, the key feature of the order Carnivora. The sharp tips, high cusps and jagged edges of the last upper premolar and the first lower molar fit together perfectly to provide a shearing surface to cut flesh. (c) Skeleton of the grey wolf. Most carnivores have a powerful, agile body and a strong skeleton. In addition to the modified clavicle, dentition and wrist, the ulna and fibula (usually the more slender of two bones in mammals’ front and rear lower limbs respectively) are well developed as an adaptation to the swift pursuit of prey that characterizes members of the dog family; the radius and ulna of the front legs are locked together to prevent rotation. (d) Fused wrist bones are typical of carnivores in which the scaphold, lunar and centrale bones are fused together to form the scapholunar bone. (e) The collar bone is reduced in all carnivores. Shown here is the collar bone (clavicle) of a wolf which is reduced to a mere sliver of bone suspended on ligaments. (f) Jaw power is crucial for the capture and tearing‐up of prey. Shown here are the lines of force exerted by the jaw‐closing muscles of the dog. The massive temporalis (t) delivers the power to exert suffocating or bone‐splitting pressure even when the jaws are agape; the rearmost (posterior) fibres of the muscle are most effective when the jaws are open wide. The masseter muscle (m) provides the force needed to cut flesh and for grinding when the jaws are almost closed.

Figure 2.

Phylogeny of the Carnivora. (After Van Valkenburgh (1999) Major patterns in the history of carnivorous mammals. Annual Reviews in Earth and Planetary Sciences27: 463–493. With permission.)


Further Reading

Akersten WA (1985) Canine function in Smilodon (Mammalia; Felidae; Machairodontinae). Los Angeles County Museum Contributions in Science 356: 1–22.

Anyonge WN (1993) Body mass in large extant and extinct carnivores. Journal of Zoology. London 231: 339–350.

Brain CK (1981) The Hunters or the Hunted? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carroll RL (1988) Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. New York: Freeman.

Ewer RF (1973) The Carnivores. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Feldhammer GA, Drickamer LC, Vessey SH and Merrit JF (1999) Mammalogy: Adaptation, Diversity and Ecology. Dubuque, IA: WCB/McGraw Hill.

Flynn JJand Nedbal MA (1998) Phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): Congruence vs incompatibility among multiple data sets. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 9: 414–426.

Gittleman JL (ed.) (1989) Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Kitchener A (1991) The Natural History of Wild Cats. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Kurten B and Anderson E (1980) Pleistocene Mammals of North America. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ledje Cand Arnason U (1996) Phylogenetic analyses of complete cytochrome b genes of the order Carnivora with particular emphasis on the Caniformia. Journal of Molecular Evolution 42: 135–144.

Ledje Cand Arnason U (1996) Phylogenetic relationships within caniform carnivores based on analyses of the mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene. Journal of Molecular Evolution 43: 641–649.

Macdonald D (ed.) (1984) Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File.

Martin LD (1989) Fossil history of the terrestrial carnivora. In: Gittleman JL (ed.) Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, pp. 536–568. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Savage RJG and Long MR (1986) Mammal Evolution. London: British Museum (Natural History).

Turner A and Anton M (1997) The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wozencraft WC (1989) The phylogeny of the recent carnivora. Gittleman JL Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, pp. 495–535. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Wyss ARand Flynn JJ (1993) A phylogenetic analysis and definition of the Carnivora. In: Szalay FS, Novacek MJ and McKenna MC (eds) Mammal Phylogeny: Placentals, pp. 32–52. New York: Springer‐Verlag .

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How to Cite close
Anyonge, William N(Apr 2001) Carnivora (Carnivores). In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001558]