Introduction to the Carnivora

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears...oh my!

Gray Wolf
Gray Wolf. Photo by Gerald and Buff Corsi, © 2002 California Academy of Sciences.
Raccoon. Photo by Gerald and Buff Corsi, © 1999 California Academy of Sciences.

Carnivora is the order of eutherian mammals that includes wolves, dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, weasels, hyaenas, seals, and walruses, to name just a few. Most carnivores are land animals, but an important and highly specialized group of carnivores, the pinnipeds or "fin-feet," have taken up life in the oceans; pinnipeds include seals, sea lions, and walruses. A few other carnivores, such as the sea otter, are also specialized for life in the oceans.

Northern Elephant Seal
Northern Elephant Seal. Photo by Gerald and Buff Corsi, © 2002 California Academy of Sciences.

Human-carnivore relationships are extremely varied. On the one hand, dogs and cats have been domesticated for thousands of years. Many carnivores, such as mink, seal, fox, and bobcat, have long been hunted or ranched for their fur. Other carnivores benefit humans by killing pests such as snakes and rodents, or by consuming carrion. However, the reputation of many large carnivores as predators on man or on livestock — a false or highly exaggerated reputation, in most cases — has been used to justify unrestricted hunting. Hunting and trapping of wild carnivores for fur, and the destruction of habitats around the world have also contributed towards bringing many carnivore species to extinction or to the brink of extinction.

Click on the buttons below to learn more about the Carnivora.

Fossil Record Life & Ecology Systematics Systematics


  • Nowak, R.M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Volume II. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Sabertooths! UCMP Special Exhibit: Sabertooths!
Visit an exhibit on some of the most famous extinct carnivores of all. Read about marsupials and creodonts who also grew "long in the tooth."

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