Members of the mammalian order Carnivora are the descendants of a successful late Paleocene radiation of mammals whose primitive food habits were carnivorous. The name "Carnivora" is sometimes taken to mean that members of this group are all carnivorous or that all carnivorous mammals are members of this group. This is not so. Members of Carnivora have diverse food habits, although many are primarily carnivorous, and carnivory is widely distributed in mammals, being found in many other orders including bats, marsupial mammals, primates, and dolphins and whales.

We recognize 13 extant families and around 270 species of Carnivora. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Geographic Range

Carnivores are distributed across the world, on all major land masses (except possibly Australia, where the only terrestrial member of Carnivora, dingos (Canis lupus dingo), may have been brought by man) and in all oceans. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)


Carnivores occupy just about every type of terrestrial habitat, and many aquatic habitats as well, from the tropics to the poles. They live in forests, deserts, mountains, grasslands, scrublands, tundra, and on open ice. Aquatic and semi-aquatic species live in freshwater rivers, lakes, and marshes, in marine coastal areas, and in the open ocean. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Physical Description

Most members of the order Carnivora can be recognized by their enlarged fourth upper premolar and first lower molar, which together form an efficient shear for cutting meat and tendon. These teeth are referred to as the carnassial pair. The exceptions are a few forms, such as bears, raccoons, and seals, in which these teeth are secondarily modified. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Besides usually having carnassials, almost all Carnivora retain the primitive number of incisors (3/3); an exception is the sea otter, which has 2/3. The outer (3rd) incisor is often relatively large and canine-like. The canines are large and conical. The number of teeth behind the carnassials varies considerably, from 1/1 in some cats to 2/2 in bears. All teeth are rooted and diphyodont. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

The skulls of carnivorans are varied in form. Most have a well-defined, transverse glenoid fossa, and the dominant motion of the jaw is in the dorsal-ventral direction. The primary muscle powering the jaw is the temporal, and sagittal crest associated with the temporal is commonly a conspicuous part of the surface of the skull. Carnivores also have a strong zygomatic arch and a relatively large braincase. The auditory bullae and the turbinals also tend to be large and complex. Carnivores are fairly intelligent animals and most have relatively large brains. All members of Carnivora have simple stomachs. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Pinnipeds are large, perhaps because water conducts heat well and large animals have a low surface area to body mass ratio, which minimizes heat loss due to conduction. Their bodies are insulated by a thick layer of fat called blubber. In all species, the external ears are small or absent, the external genitalia and nipples are hidden in slits or depressions in the body, and the tail is very small. The forelimbs and hindlimbs are transformed into paddles. In both, the proximal limb elements (humerus and femur) remain within the body, and other aspects of the limbs, limb girdles, and spine are highly specialized for swimming. Most species have a relatively short rostrum, and the orbits are large. The cheek teeth are usually homodont (no differentiation along the toothrow), and the teeth are usually shaped like simple cones. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Carnivores tend to be medium-sized animals; too small and they couldn't find enough within their capacity to kill; too large and they wouldn't be able to satisfy their appetites. However, as a group, carnivores span a wide range of body sizes. Least weasels (Mustela nivalis), the smallest carnivores, can weigh as little as 35 grams, and male southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), the largest carnivores, can weigh more than 3,600 kg. Many carnivore species are sexually dimorphic in size. Usually males are larger than females (as with fishers, lions, and wolves) but in a few species females are larger than males (as with spotted hyenas). Additionally, males of some species have ornamentation that females lack (as is the case with the inflatable probosci of male elephant seals). (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Many carnivores have thick, luxurious coats, though some, like walruses, have coats that are quite sparse. Their fur comes in various colors, including black, white, orange, yellow, red, and almost every imaginable shade of gray and brown. In addition, many carnivores are striped, spotted, blotched, banded, or otherwise boldly patterned. Some species, such as gray wolves, are polymorphic for coat color. Domesticated cats and dogs exhibit thousands of combinations of coat colors and body shapes as a result of selective breeding by humans. (Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • female larger
  • male larger
  • sexes shaped differently
  • ornamentation


Carnivores have polygynous, polygynandrous, and monogamous mating systems. Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) demonstrate extreme polygyny, wherein males fight for exclusive access to harems of females. Gray wolves (Canis lupus), on the other hand, are monogamous cooperative breeders; the dominant male and female of each pack breed and all members of the pack help raise their offspring. Solitary carnivores, such as bears, mustelids, and cats, are often polygynandrous, with males and females each having multiple partners during the breeding season. (Ewer, 1973; King, 1989; Moehlman, 1989; Reeves, et al., 2002; Sandell, 1989)

Carnivores breed either aseasonally or seasonally; those in cold climates usually mate in winter and spring and give birth to their young during spring and summer. Females may be polyestrus or monoestrus; in some species, ovulation is induced by the act of mating. Carnivores may have two or three litters per year (as with least weasels), but most carnivore females have just one litter every one to two years. Delayed implantation, wherein the blastocyst lies quiescent for several months before implanting in the uterine lining, is common in some carnivore families (such as mustelids). After implantation, gestation periods range from five weeks in least weasels to 15 months in walruses. Typical true gestation periods last two to four months. Litter sizes range from 1 to 16, and are commonly 3 to 5. Females nurse their young for up to two years, and the young take up to seven years to reach sexual maturity. (Ewer, 1973; Mead, 1989; Reeves, et al., 2002; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Female carnivores nurture their young inside their bodies for up to 15 months and provide their young with milk after birth. The length of nursing varies considerably among carnivores. Some phocids only nurse their young for a couple of weeks, whereas walruses nurse their young for up to two years. The duration of lactation in terrestrial carnivores falls between these two extremes. Carnivore young range from highly precocial, harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pups are able to swim a few minutes after birth, to altricial, as in bears. Female carnivores usually bear the sole responsiblity for nurturing and protecting their offspring, but male parental care is not uncommon, especially among canids. Carnivores that live in groups and breed communally may all share in the task of raising each others' offspring. In some social species, like spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), the mother's position in the dominance hierarchy determines the position of her offspring. The young of spotted hyenas, wolverines, sea otters, bears, and large felids stay with their mothers for up to two years even though they are weaned well before this time; they depend on their mothers for food until they become proficient at hunting for themselves. In carnivores that form close-knit social groups, bonds between mother and offspring may extend well beyond the period of offspring dependency. (Ewer, 1973; Frank, 1996; Gittleman, 1989; Moehlman, 1989; Reeves, et al., 2002; Sandell, 1989; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning
  • inherits maternal/paternal territory
  • maternal position in the dominance hierarchy affects status of young


Carnivores are relatively long-lived mammals, with most species living at least a decade. The main exceptions are small weasels (Mustela), which live up to six years in captivity but usually do not make it past one year in the wild. In general, pinniped carnivores live longer than fissiped carnivores, with several species (walruses, gray seals, ringed seals, Caspian seals, and Baikal seals) reported to live 40 or more years in the wild. (Carey and Judge, 2002; King, 1989)


Carnivora includes terrestrial, aquatic, and semi-aquatic species. Aquatic species (pinnipeds) are excellent swimmers, more at home in the water than on land. These animals are capable of diving to extreme depths (600 m in the case of Weddell seals) and remaining under water for astonishing periods (over an hour, although most dives are much shorter). Some carnivores, such as procyonids, are skilled climbers and spend much of their time in trees. Many terrestrial carnivores are excellent runners. A few are good long-distance runners, but more commonly, carnivorans are rapid sprinters that use stealth to approach their prey, then overcome it with a short, violent rush. A few, like bears and raccoons, seem relatively slow or clumsy, but even these species are capable of remarkable bursts of speed. Even those specialized for long-distance running don't have the highly modified and relatively inflexible skeletons and movement patterns of cursorial herbivores like artiodactyls; this is probably related to the often unpredictable demands that catching and killing large prey place on their skeletons. (Gittleman, 1989; Sandell, 1989; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Carnivores exhibit varying degrees of sociality, ranging from solitary (bears, for example) to colonial (California sea lions, for example). Some carnivore species are difficult to place in a single category, as their degree of sociality varies over their geographic range or even among sex and age classes within a population. For example, red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) breed cooperatively in some regions and are largely solitary in others, and female coatis (Nasua nasua) live in close groups, whereas male coatis are solitary. It is estimated that about 10 to 15% of carnivore species regularly live in groups beyond the breeding season (this estimate does not include pinnipeds). For social carnivores, group living often entails the formation of strictly-enforced dominance hierarchies. Social bonds among group members can be very strong, with individuals showing affection for one another and keeping each other out of trouble. (Gittleman, 1989; Sandell, 1989; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Some carnivore species undergo seasonal long-distance migrations in concert with the migrations of their prey. Others stay within one home range year round. Home ranges tend to be large, and often vigorously defended, as each carnivore's home range must encompass the home ranges of many prey animals. Carnivora includes both diurnal and nocturnal species. When resting, many carnivorans den in tree hollows, burrows, or caves. A few species, such as those in the family Ursidae, undergo long periods of torpor through the winter. (Gittleman, 1989; Sandell, 1989; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Communication and Perception

Most carnivorans have acute senses. Vision and hearing are excellent in many, often far surpassing the capabilities of humans. Domestic cats and other carnivores that hunt small rodents can hear ultrasounds emitted by their prey. Most carnivorans come equipped with tactile hairs (vibrissae) on the face and legs, which they use to feel their way through narrow, dark surroundings. The sense of smell is often remarkable. Carnivorans make extensive use of chemical signals excreted in urine and feces and produced by glands in the skin and anal region. They use these chemical signals for scent-marking territories and for conveying information about identity, social status, and reproductive status. Carnivorans also communicate acoustically with a variety of yips, howls, barks, growls, roars, and purrs. These sounds have various functions, including strengthing social bonds, advertising for mates, defending territories, and communicating alarm, distress, and contentment. Social carnivores such as lions sometimes erupt into choruses of loud roars as a means of calling one another to assemble. Visual signals, mainly in the form of body posturing, are also used by carnivorans to communicate, and tactile signals, as when a wolf licks and bites the muzzle of a dominant individual to show submission, are used as well. (Ewer, 1973; Gorman and Trowbridge, 1989; Peters and Wozencraft, 1989; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Food Habits

Animal matter makes up a substantial portion of the diet of most carnivorans. However, not all members of Carnivora are carnivorous. Some, such as bears and raccoons, are decidedly omnivorous, and giant pandas are primarily vegetarian. Foods consumed by carnivorans include mammals, birds and eggs, reptiles, amphibians, fish, carrion, insects and other arthropods, earthworms, mollusks, crustaceans, fruit, nuts, tubers, leaves, shoots, and plankton (on which crabeater seals specialize). (Ewer, 1973; Reeves, et al., 2002; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Carnivorans have various means of capturing their prey. Some ambush prey, overtaking it in a sudden burst of speed, others chase prey over long distances and slowly tire it out. Some (such as skunks) simply shuffle about and eat whatever they happen to come across. Still others scavenge from carcasses or, in urban areas, from garbage cans. Some carnivores, such as arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) are known to cache their kills for later consumption. Crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophaga) are unique among carnivores in that they are filter feeders. They have specialized teeth which allow them to strain tiny zooplankton, their staple food, from the water. (Ewer, 1973; Reeves, et al., 2002; Stains, 1984; Vaughan, et al., 2000)


Many carnivorans are top predators in their ecosystems, and therefore do not face the threat of predation as adults, though their young may be vulnerable. Small terrestrial carnivorans face predation by larger carnivorans, and by diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey. Pinnipeds face predation by large cetaceans such as killer whales (Orcinus orca) and by sharks. Many carnivorans, large and small, terrestrial and aquatic, are hunted by humans. (Eaton, 1976; Gorman and Trowbridge, 1989; Korpimaki and Norrdahl, 1989; Ortolani and Caro, 1996; Reeves, et al., 2002; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Most carnivorans use their teeth and claws to fend off predators. A carnivore that feels threatened typically crouches and bares its teeth, hissing or growling at its attacker and biting and scratching if the attacker gets too close. Pinnipeds, on the other hand, rely largely on their speed and agility in the water to escape predators. Female carnivorans often hide their helpless infants in a den, and may switch the den location occasionally to avoid detection. Some carnivoran parents are also known to vigorously defend their offspring if necessary. Many carnivorans are the same color as their background (such as Arctic foxes, which turn white in winter to match the snow). They also frequently exhibit countershading or color patterns, such as spots and stripes, that break up their outline and make them difficult to see. A few carnivorans have special adaptations to defend themselves against predators. Skunks and some mustelids, herpestids, and viverrids have well-developed anal glands, which produce a foul-smelling musk that is released under stress. These animals usually bear aposematic coloration in the form of contrasting stripes and bands, warning would-be predators to stay away. Finally, it has been postulated that some carnivorans mimic others to avoid predation. For example, the coloration of cheetah cubs, which are highly vulnerable to predation, may mimic that of honey badgers, which are aposematic and highly aggressive. (Eaton, 1976; Gorman and Trowbridge, 1989; Korpimaki and Norrdahl, 1989; Ortolani and Caro, 1996; Reeves, et al., 2002; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Carnivorans are important predators in many ecosystems, acting as a "top-down" control on populations of their prey. Many are such an important control on their prey that they act as keystone species, and their removal has drastic consequences for the ecosystem. For example, wolves were recently reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park after being extirpated for nearly 70 years, and their predation on elk has allowed woody plants to recover from overbrowsing. (Ripple and Beschta, 2003)

Carnivores host a wide range of internal and external parasites, including protozoans, nematodes, trematodes, cestodes, fleas, lice, and ticks. (Roberts and Janovy Jr., 2000)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans benefit from carnivorans in many ways. Humans have hunted them for thousands of years for sport and for their fur, meat, and other body parts. Bones and soft tissues of tigers (Panthera tigris) and other large carnivores have long been used in traditional Asian medicine. Millions of small carnivores such as red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and mink (Neovison vison) are raised on farms for their fur. Carnivorans are also valuable to humans for their ability to control rodents and other pests, and domesticated cats, dogs, and other carnivorans are popular pets worldwide. (Schaller, 1996; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Carnivorans also have negative impacts on humans. They may compete with humans for game and prey on livestock. Occasionally, large carnivorans even attack and kill humans. Omnivorous species may raid fruit crops, and in urban areas carnivorans become pests when they raid garbage cans and take up residence inside chimneys and under porches. They also carry diseases and parasites, such as rabies, that can be transmitted to humans and domestic animals. (Roberts and Janovy Jr., 2000; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

Conservation Status

Members of Carnivora have been feared, persecuted, and exploited by humans for centuries. There are currently 122 species on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species. Of these, 11 are near threatened, 9 are lower risk, 39 are vulnerable, 33 are endangered, 6 are critically endangered, 5 have recently gone extinct, and one, black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), is extinct in the wild, although reintroduction efforts show promise. Another 18 are listed as data deficient. Major threats to carnivorans include habitat loss and degradation and hunting for sport and profit. Rare species often fetch top dollar on the black market, even though trade in these species is strictly regulated by CITES and by national laws. Captive breeding programs may be the last chance for the survival of some species, such as giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). In some cases, reintroduction of species into areas where they were previously extirpated has been successful, as with the wolves of Yellowstone. In order to save carnivorans from extinction in the long term, large swaths of habitat and healthy populations of prey species must be preserved in all parts of the world, and humans must learn to coexist peacefully with these animals. (IUCN, 2004; Schaller, 1996)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Phil Myers (earlier author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison Poor (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



lives on Antarctica, the southernmost continent which sits astride the southern pole.

Arctic Ocean

the body of water between Europe, Asia, and North America which occurs mostly north of the Arctic circle.

Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.


a method of feeding where small food particles are filtered from the surrounding water by various mechanisms. Used mainly by aquatic invertebrates, especially plankton, but also by baleen whales.


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


an animal that mainly eats fish


an animal that mainly eats plankton


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


an animal that mainly eats dead animals

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Carey, J., D. Judge. 2002. "Longevity Records: Life Spans of Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish" (On-line). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Accessed December 05, 2005 at

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