The order Carnivora is one of the 20 orders of mammals. The Carnivora are a diverse group of animals, living in almost any habitat, including the oceans, with over 260 species. Most carnivores are land animals, some like the otters spend much of their lives in water and about 30 species, the seals and their relatives, are marine, only leaving the sea once a year to breed.
Despite the name, not all Carnivora live exclusively on meat. Bears, jackals, and foxes are omnivorous, surviving on a diet of meat and fruits, the aardwolf eats almost nothing else but termites, and the giant panda lives almost entirely on bamboo shoots. The unifying feature of the Carnivora is a set of scissor-like teeth set back in the mouth and used for shearing through meat, called the carnassials. However, it is not quite as simple as that, as some of the modern day Carnivora like the giant panda and the aardwolf do not possess carnassials. It is sufficient qualification for a species to be included in the Carnivora if its evolutionary ancestors did.
Eating meat has many advantages over a diet of vegetable matter, particularly grass. Meat is easy to digest and rich in protein. On the other hand, meat is more difficult to procure than vegetable matter. Swift-footed and wary prey have to be caught and killed before they can be eaten and "static meat" in the form of carrion is usually widespread and scarce. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that carnivores are often highly intelligent animals with sophisticated social systems.
Was this article helpful?