Carnivore Zoology

Understand more about carnivorous animals and get a head start on your zoology career.

Course Code: BEN219
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Study Carnivore Zoology

Carnivores evolved around 50 to 60 million years ago. The carnivores we see today are believed to have evolved from a common ancestor – a small tree-dwelling mammal, that fed on insects and small mammals.

This course introduces you to the fundamentals about the taxonomy, biology and behaviour of carnivore animals. The course progresses by addressing the biological characteristics of various groups of carnivores.

Study this course to learn all about these fascinating animals...

  • Learn about the anatomical and physiological features which distinguish carnivores from other types of mammals
  • Learn how to differentiate between different species of carnivores.
  • Learn about the physiology and behaviours associated with a meat-eating lifestyle such as hunting, predation and social structure and territoriality.



Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Taxonomy and Evolution
    • Distinguishing characteristics of carnivores
    • Principles of taxonomy
    • Modern science changes to taxonomy
    • Carnivore classification - 12 families
    • Case study - polar bear
    • Carnivore evolution
  2. Carnivore Biology
    • Introduction
    • Musculo skeletal system
    • Types of joints
    • Types of muscles
    • Digestive system
    • Excretory system -skin, kidneys, liver
    • Endocrine system
    • Nervous system
    • Reproductive system
    • Case study - Domestic cat
    • Respiratory system
    • Anatomical adaptations for feeding
    • Locomotion
    • Camouflage
    • Sight
  3. Carnivore Behaviour
    • Kinds of behaviour - reactive, active, cognitive
    • Learned behaviour -classical conditioning, operant conditioning
    • Physiology and behaviour
    • Senses
    • Range and distribution
    • Ecology
    • Longevity
    • Ultraism
    • Reproduction
    • Predation
    • Pathogens and parasites
    • Sustainable management
    • Mating and sexual behaviour
    • Social behaviours
    • Hunting behaviours
    • Territories
  4. Canines
    • Introduction
    • Atelocynus (short-eared dog)
    • Canis (dogs, wolves and foxes)
    • Cerdocyon (crab-eating fox)
    • Chrysocyon
    • Chrysocyon (maned wolf)
    • Cuon (dhole)
    • Dusicyon (Falkland Islands wolf)
    • Lycalopex (culpeo, fox)
    • Lycaon (African wild dog)
    • Nyctereutes (raccoon dog)
    • Otocyon (bat-eared fox)
    • Vulpes (fox)
  5. Felines
    • Sub families
    • Anatomy
    • Digestive system
    • Panthera (Lion, tiger, leopard, Jaguar)
    • Neofelis (Clouded Leopard)
    • Pardofelis (Marbled Cat)
    • Felis (cat)
    • Prionailurus (Fishing Cat)
    • Leopardus (Andean Mountain Cat)
    • Case study - Tiger
  6. Bears
    • Introduction
    • Anatomy/
    • Dentition
    • Lifespan
    • Hibernation
    • Mating and reproduction
    • Living genera and species
    • Ursus
    • Helarctos(Sun Bear)
    • Melursus (Sloth Bear)
    • Tremarctos (Andean Bear, Spectacled Bear)
    • Ailuropoda (Giant Panda)
    • Case study - Giant Panda
  7. Aquatic Carnivores
    • Introduction
    • Odobenidae (walrus)
    • Phocidae (true, earless, or hair seals)
    • Otariidae (eared seals) (fur seals, sea lions)
    • Case study - Walrus conservation
  8. Mustelids
    • Introduction
    • Mustelidae family - Weasels, Baders, Otters
    • Genus Taxidea (American badger)
    • Mellivora (Honey badger)
    • Arctonyx
    • Meles (Badgers)
    • Eira (Tayra)
    • Gulo (Wolverine)
    • Martes (Martens and Fishers)
    • Melogale (Ferret badgers)
    • Iconyx (Striped polecat)
    • Lontra (New world otters)
    • Enhydra (Sea otters)
    • Lutra (old world otters)
    • Mustela Weasels, European Mink, Ferrets, Stoats and polecats
    • Others
    • Mephitidae family - skunks
  9. Other Carnivores
    • Introduction
    • Procyonidae (raccoons)
    • Ailuridae (lesser panda)
    • Viverridae (civets, genets)
    • Herpestidae (mongooses - often considered part of Viverridae)
    • Hyaenidae (hyenas, aardwolf)

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the characteristics, classification and significance of carnivorous animals to man, ecosystems and environments.
  • Describe anatomical and physiological features of carnivores, which differentiate carnivores from other types of mammals.
  • Explain carnivore behaviour.
  • Differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Canidae.
  • Differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Felidae.
  • Differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Ursidae.
  • Differentiate different types of canine animals that are aquatic.
  • Differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Mustelidae and Mephitidae.
  • Differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic families not yet dealt with.

How Many Carnivores are there?

There are around 280 different living species of carnivores, but a lot more than that if you include extinct species.

These living carnivores are divided by zoologists into twelve families, and throughout this course you will become familiar with those families and the points of difference between each.

The living families are:

  • Canidae (dogs, jackals, fox, wolves)
  • Ursidae (bears, panda)
  • Procyonidae (raccoons, lesser panda)
  • Mustelidae (otters, weasels, badgers, mink)
  • Mephitidae (skunks-previously part of Mustelidae)
  • Viverridae (civets, genets)
  • Herpestidae (mongooses-often considered part of Viverridae)
  • Hyaenidae (hyenas, aardwolf)
  • Felidae (cats, lion, tiger)
  • Odobenidae (walrus)
  • Phocidae (true, earless, or hair seals)
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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Kara Wight

Kara Wight - BSc (Applied Bioscience and Zoology), HND (Animal Care), HND (Photography & Imaging)

Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation.
Gareth has a B.Sc.(Hons), B.V.Sc., M.A., M.Vet.S,. PhD, Grad. Cert. Ed.(HE), Post-Grad.Cert. Aq.Vet.Sc., Post-Grad. Cert. WLBio&Cons., Dipl. ECPHM, MRCVS.

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