What is Order Carnivora?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
An otter, from the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.
An otter, from the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.

Carnivora is a diverse order of placental mammals that includes 260 mostly carnivorous (meat-eating) species, including the familiar domestic cat and dog. Carnivora consist of three superfamilies: Canoidea (dogs, badgers, skunks, weasels, ferrets, martens, minks, otters, polecats, raccoons, bears, and the extinct bear-dogs), Feloidea (cats and other felids, mongooses, hyenas, civets, and the extinct paleofelids), and Pinnipedia (walruses, seals, and sea lions).

A raccoon, a member of the carnivora order.
A raccoon, a member of the carnivora order.

Species in order Carnivora tend to be terrestrial carnivores with sharp, deeply-rooted teeth, including incisors, often adapted for killing smaller animals and tearing off their flesh. Carnivorans also share a similar skull structure, with strong jaw muscles for biting. Some members of Carnivora, like bears, are omnivores, eating cereals, roots, and other plants along with a meat-based diet. Others, like badgers, are insectivores, primarily eating earthworms, insects, and grubs. Still others, like the hyena, are scavengers, consuming the remains of animals killed by carnivores or recently dead of natural causes. Felids have the largest incisors of carnivorans, the epitome being reached in the extinct saber-tooth tiger.

The Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora includes dogs.
The Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora includes dogs.

Carnivorans range in size from the smallest domestic cats, such as the record-setting Mr. Peebles from Illinois, who weighed only 3 lb (1.2 kg) and is 6 in (15 cm) long, to a record-setting elephant seal that weighs 11,000 lb (5000 kg) and measures 22.5 ft (6.9 m) in length. Mr. Peebles' case is actually due to a genetic defect, however, and the Least Weasel, with a lower weight and longer body, is sometimes considered the smallest member of Carnivora. Another of the large carnivorans is the polar bear, which is also the largest purely terrestrial carnivore, weighing up to 1,300 lb (600 kg), and measuring 10 ft (3 m) in length.

Polar bears belong to the carnivora order.
Polar bears belong to the carnivora order.

Order Carnivora consists of all the animals that resulted from the radiation of early placental mammalian carnivores. This occurred about 42 million years ago, when felids and canids diverged from primitive mammalian carnivores called miacids, which resembled present-day martens. Miacids are considered carnivoramorphs rather than true members of order Carnivora. Since the time of the miacids, carnivorans have adapted to fill a wide range of habitats, and are sometimes considered to be the smartest mammalian order apart from primates.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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    • An otter, from the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.
      By: Eric Isselée
      An otter, from the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.
    • A raccoon, a member of the carnivora order.
      By: Eric Isselée
      A raccoon, a member of the carnivora order.
    • The Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora includes dogs.
      By: Gelpi
      The Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora includes dogs.
    • Polar bears belong to the carnivora order.
      By: JackF
      Polar bears belong to the carnivora order.
    • Minks are a member of the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.
      By: Eric Isselée
      Minks are a member of the Canoidea superfamily of Carnivora.
    • The mongoose is part of the Feloidea superfamily of Carnivora.
      By: EcoView
      The mongoose is part of the Feloidea superfamily of Carnivora.
    • Ferrets are part of the carnivora family.
      By: jagodka
      Ferrets are part of the carnivora family.
    • Some Carnivora species, like hyenas, are scavengers.
      By: dlrz4114
      Some Carnivora species, like hyenas, are scavengers.