Order Carnivora  ≥11 families, >287 species
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Order Carnivora ≥11 families, >287 species •Naturally distributed on all continents (except possibly Australia) •Morphologically & behaviorally diverse •Economically important in most countries •Ecologically important. Order Carnivora Recognition characters (most/all related to carnivory):

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Order Carnivora ≥11 families, >287 species

•Naturally distributed on all continents (except possibly Australia)

•Morphologically & behaviorally diverse

•Economically important in most countries

•Ecologically important

Order Carnivora

Recognition characters (most/all related to carnivory):

Dental features (present in MOST species):

•Carnassial shear: P4/M1 (secondarily lost in some taxa)

•Canines large, conical

•Most have primitive # incisors (3/3)

Cranial features:

•Transverse glenoid fossa

•Sagittal crest often prominent, well developed

•Large brains, well developed zygomatic arch

Other features:

•Most are medium-sized

•Acute senses (hearing, sight, especially smell)

•Most are adept cursors---sprinting

•Simple stomach (cecum reduced or absent in most sp.)

Glenoid/ mandibular fossa

C-shaped: strong hinge,

minimizes lateral movement

and facilitates up & down


(e.g., mustelids)

Omnivores (e.g., bears,

procyonids) have more “open”

glenoid fossa, permitting

lateral movement

Postcranial modifications:

•loss or reduction of clavicles

(increases stride length)

•fusion of carpal bones

(may add support for cursorial locomotion)

Fusion of centrale, scaphoid, & lunar bones

of wrist


Most non-carnivorans

Non-cursorial taxa

(e.g., ursids, procyonids)

Cursorial taxa

(e.g., canids, felids)

Increases stride length

Order Carnivora ≥11 families, >287 species

Suborder Feliformia (“cat like”)

Felidae (cats & their relatives)

Hyaenidae (hyenas, aardwolves)

Herpestidae (mongooses)

Viverridae (civets, genets)

Suborder Caniformia (“dog like”)

Canidae (dogs & their relatives)

Ursidae (bears)

Mustelidae (weasels, otters, etc., skunks?)

Procyonidae (raccoon, coati, kinkajou)

Odobenidae (walrus)

Otariidae (sea lions)

Phocidae (seals)







Creodonts---Fossil carnivorans, late Cretaceous-Miocene

Outcompeted by more “modern” carnivorans?

18 genera, 40 sp.

All continents ‘cept Austr.,


Felids: “The ultimate killing machines”

Most specialized hunters of the carnivorans,

relying almost exclusively on prey that they

have killed themselves.

short rostrum=increased

bite force at canines

“Big” vs “small” cats


& others


Retractile (=retractable) claws? PROTRACTILE!

terminal phalanx, supporting claw

edge of fleshy sheath

around claw

horny claw

elastic ligament holds

claw in (retracted)


tendon of extensor muscle

middle phalanx

tendon of flexor muscle

tendon at wrist

holding ligaments in place

ligaments of extensor muscle

terminal phalanx


4 genera, 4 sp.

Africa, SW Asia

18 genera, 37 sp.

Africa, S. & SE Asia

20 genera, 34 sp.

Africa, S. & SE Asia






14 genera, 34 sp.

All continents ‘cept Antarctica

6 genera, 9 sp.

N. & S. America, Eurasia

25 genera, 65 sp.

Worldwide ‘cept

Australia, Madagascar

6 genera, 18 sp.

N. & S. America

“Hypercarnivory”---too much of a

good thing?

Stenotopic: restricted range of habitats

or ecological conditions

Eurytopic: wide range of habitats

or ecological conditions

•reduced molars &

non-carnassial P’s

(=reduced grinding)

•enlarged carnassials

& canines

•short rostrum

•meat-only diet



•unreduced or

enlarged molars

•reduced carnassials

•long rostrum

•omnivorous diet


Smilodon (extinct

sabre-tooth cat)

Modern felid

masseter muscle relaxes more, allowing

wide open gape



(extinct S. American

hypercarnivorous marsupial)

•Hypercarnivory has evolved several times (and in several


•Usually correlated with LARGE BODY SIZE...

Cope’s Rule: Evolutionary trend towards

larger body size.

Common among mammals.

Advantages: -Avoid predators

-Enhance reproductive success

-Improve thermal effiency

-Interspecific competition for food

-Capture larger prey (prey size

often increases over time)

Prey size (cont.)

Tradeoff between foraging effort & food acquired imposes energetic constraint.

Smaller carnivores can subist on small prey (e.g., insects, rodents).

Larger carnivores (> ca. 21 g)--small prey not worth the energy expended.

Larger body size leads to HYPERCARNIVORY and overspecialization?

Hypercarnivory in N. American canids

Canidae---3 subfamilies


Hesperocyoninae† (>28 sp.)

Borophaginae† (>68 sp.)

Diverse in Miocene; peak of 25 contemporaneous

species. (compare with 7 extant canids in N.S.


N. America endemics

Cope’s Rule



1st appearance of



1st appearance of



Millions of years ago

Constraint” Any factor that tends to slow the rate of

adaptive evolution.

Reversal to more generalized morphology rare in

highly specialized taxa.

Hypercarnivory may lead to “adaptive peak” that can’t

be descended...