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Placental Carnivores: Past and Present. Ilse Kotzee Student # 2456349 Landscape Ecology and People University of the Western Cape. Placental Carnivore Definition:.

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Placental carnivores past and present

Placental Carnivores: Past and Present

Ilse Kotzee

Student # 2456349

Landscape Ecology and People

University of the Western Cape

Placental Carnivore Definition:

  • Placental refers to a mammal who gives birth to live young, which is nourished throughout the pregnancy by placenta; a specialized organ attached to the uterus wall. (

  • Carnivore refers to any animal whose diet consists mainly out of meat. ( )

  • Presently there are about 260 placental carnivores (

Creodonts and Carnivores

  • Placental carnivores represented by two orders:

  • The now extinct Creodonts

  • The very successful true Carnivores


  • Primitive carnivorous mammals

  • Long and low scull with primitive brain

  • Head large in proportion to body

  • Short and heavy limbs; long tail; sharp clawed toes

Hyeanodon gigas


  • Dominated from late Eocene up to present day

  • Large brain case

  • Good sense of smell

  • Well developed canines

  • Shearing and crushing teeth

  • Strong body capable of powerful movement



  • Differ from insectivores in having special pairs of upper and lower carnassials

  • Dagger like canines used for stabbing, main weapon for killing prey

  • Strong incisor teeth used for nipping

Carnivore evolutionary timeline
Carnivore evolutionary timeline

The oxyaenids
The Oxyaenids

  • Characteristic long body, short limbs and very long tail

  • Can be compared to martens and cats of today

  • Diet consisted out of birds, eggs, small mammals and most likely still insects

  • Capable of climbing trees

Reconstruction of the cat-like creodont Oxyaena

The hyaenodontids

Resembled hyena's and dogs of present time

Reached very large sizes

Had longer limbs, so were better runners

Active predators, able to compete with true carnivores for short time

Much more abundant than Oxyaenids

The Hyaenodontids

Extinction of creodonts

A change in temperature may have favored the early carnivores

No match for the true carnivores with greater intelligence and more specializations

Extinction of Creodonts


Seen as most primitive representative of True Carnivores carnivores

Still had primitive features such as; a low scull, elongated body and tail, and short limbs, but larger brain

Diet consisted of small animals living in dense undergrowth or in trees

Resembled modern day weasels


The fessipeds

Dominated from late Eocene till present time carnivores

They are the familiar and well known dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, wolves etc.

Order divided into two groups; Cannoids and Feloids

Division based on anatomical differences

The Fessipeds

Super family canoidea

The early Cannoids kept much of their primitive characteristics

Did show some elongation of limbs and feet

Carnassials more specialized for shearing then in Miacids

The brain case was also bigger

Super family: Canoidea

Canidae characteristics

  • Has long legs, of all carnivores most adapted for running

  • They are social hunters that rely on speed to chase and pin down prey

  • Possesses an elongated muzzle and bushy tail

Ursids characteristics

  • In the Miocene dogs started evolving into larger heavier carnivores

  • This could be where the ancestry of bears can be traced

  • Like dogs bears are very adaptable and widely distributed

  • Dentition more suitable for omnivory


Procyonids characteristics

  • The Oligocene gave rise to yet another Cannoid

  • A small, climbing carnivore with hand like forepaws, and flexible limbs

  • Differs from dogs in that they walk on the soles of their feet

  • Like dogs they have 5 toes ending in non retractable claws


Mustelids characteristics

  • Of all carnivores this group shows the widest range of adaptive radiation

  • Group consists out of primitive mustelines, the mellivorines, melines, mephitines and the lutrines

  • Can be identified by their tapering body and short legs

  • Each group’s diet and behavior is equally diverse


Viverridae characteristics

  • Included in the Feloid carnivores , is one of the oldest carnivores still living today; the civets

  • They first made their appearance in the Eocene and lower Oligocene age

  • The small, forest living genet ‘s ancestry can be closely linked with that of the civet’s


Herpestidae characteristics

  • Recently split from the civet stock due to technical details in anatomy

  • Least known and studied of all carnivores

  • Small carnivore, with short legs and a long tail


Hyaenidae characteristics

  • Very large and heavy descendant of the civet

  • Hyena has heavy skull, with strong enlarged teeth for cracking bones

  • Legs are elongated for faster running.

  • Highly specialized carnassials with almost no molars


Nimravidae characteristics

  • The evolution of cats mirrors that of the Hyena only occurring earlier

  • A very successful group that very rapidly evolved into the modern day cats we know today

Felidae cats

Includes the lynxes, lions, leopards, jaguarundi, tigers, bobcats, mountain lions, ocelots and cheetahs

Members of this group are the ultimate carnivores

A distinguishing feature is their four toes ending in retractable claws

Top class hunters, with acute sense of smell, hearing and excellent balance

Felidae: Cats

Felidae cats contd

Two groups separates the Felidae into the big cats (genus Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

The ability to purr distinguishes these two groups

Unable to run for long distances they are excellent sprinters

Felidae: Cats contd.

The pennipeds

Includes the sea lions, walruses and seals Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

First appeared during Oligocene to Miocene

Made the move from land to water

Four feet are transformed into paddles with webbing between toes

Large size, with thick blubber

The Pennipeds

Ottaridae Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

  • Represented by eared seals and sea lions

  • Males larger then females

  • Able to dive and remain submerged for extended periods of time

  • Fur has even black color

  • Dentition specialized for eating fish


Odobenidae Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

  • Represented by walrus

  • A strong carnivore with little to no hair and no external ears

  • Diet consists out of mollusks taken from sea bottom with lips and tusks

  • Sociable and with groups of 1000 and more also polygamous


Of all the aquatic carnivores this group is most abundant Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

Known to be monogamous as well as polygamous

Hind limbs specialized for swimming cannot be used on land

Mottled fur that is spotted or banded


Newly discovered carnivores
Newly discovered carnivores Panthera) and the small cats (genus Felids)

  • This order is very progressive, and even today new members are being discovered

  • The cat-fox is a potentially new carnivore

  • Discovered in Indonesia (Borneo)

  • “The mammal is slightly larger then a cat, with red fur, a long tail and hind legs longer then the front legs” (


Colbert E.H., Morales (M) (1991) Evolution of the Vertebrates, 4th Ed. New York Wiley-Liss (Chapter 25)


References1 Vertebrates, 4th Ed. New York Wiley-Liss (Chapter 25)