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Order Description


Order Description

The order name Carnivora comes from the Latin words carnis(flesh) and vorare(to devour). Carnivores are predators, though many will consume a wide variety of foods. All have an acute sense of smell and have a set of teeth (dentition) adapted to cutting and tearing flesh. Their dentition includes a pair of well-developed canines, post-canines, and blade-like carnassial teeth. In general, animals in this order have strong limbs with claws. Carnivores are relatively large and intelligent. All these adaptations help carnivores catch, kill, and feed on other animals.

The Cougar, is the only carnivore currently included on Georgia's Endangered and Protected Species lists. One extirpated species, the Red Wolf, is currently in a captive breeding program.

The Order Carnivora, which is divided into two suborders, contains 10 families, 109 genera, and 269 species worldwide (except Australia). Of these, 27 genera including 61 species occur in North America. Only 16 of the terrestrial species are found in the southeastern United States.

Family Canidae

This family includes dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackles. They are medium-sized mammals with long bushy tails and large ears. They have elongate muzzles with long powerful canines and sharp molars. Their legs are long and well adapted for running. Most have five toes on the front feet and four on the rear. When hunting, they rely more on their senses of hearing and smell than upon sight. They are intelligent and adapt their behavior to their environment. Five species are found in Georgia.
Species in this family:
    Coyote (Canis latrans)
    Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
    Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
    Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
    Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

Family Felidae

This family encompasses all the cats of the world. They have short broad faces with large eyes and triangular upright ears. They have acute senses of sight, hearing, and smell. They have five toes on the front feet and four on the back. All felids found in Georgia have sharp, strongly curved, retractile claws. They are medium to large active predators. Most species are silent, secretive, solitary, mostly nocturnal hunters. Two species have been known to occur in Georgia.
Species in this family:
    Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
    Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Family Mephitidae

This family includes the skunks and stink badgers.
Species in this family:
    Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius)
    Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Family Mustelidae

This family includes badgers, otters, and weasels. These animals all have long canines and sharp carnassial teeth. They are small to medium sized animals with short snouts and small round ears. Their legs are rather short compared to their body length, and they have five clawed toes per foot. They also possess an anal gland which produces a rather pungent scent which some species use in defense. Most are fierce, quick, agile predators. Five species of Mustelidae occur in Georgia.
Species in this family:
    Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis)
    Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)
    Mink (Mustela vison)
    Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

Family Otariidae

This family includes eared seals and sea lions. These marine mammals have hind limbs that are flipper-like but can still be used on land. They have small ears, large eyes, and long whiskers. One species of Sea Lion sometimes is seen off the coast of Georgia.
Species in this family:
    California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus)

Family Phocidae

This family includes only the earless seals. These marine mammals are ungainly on land but quick and agile in the water. Their front flippers are short, and their hind limbs extend straight back. They use their hind limbs only when swimming, and move on land by taking short hops. They have large eyes and nose, but no external ears. They feed on fish, shell fish, squid, and octopus. They are most often seen when they are sunning on land. One species, the Harbor Seal, is seen along the Georgia coast, though rarely.
Species in this family:
    Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)
    Hooded or Crested Seal (Cystophora cristata)

Family Procyonidae

In the southeastern United States, this family is represented by only one species, the Northern Raccoon. A Northern Raccoon is about the size of a dog. It has a long, bushy, black-ringed tail and a distinctive black mask across its face. It has five toes per limb and is an excellent climber.
Species in this family:
    Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Family Ursidae

This family includes all the bears of the world. They are medium to large animals with uniformly colored fur. They have five toes on each foot, with well-developed claws. They can walk upright for short distances and will readily climb trees. They are solitary animals. Bears use their sharp sense of smell to find food, which can be anything from insects to berries or fish. The American Black Bear is the largest terrestrial carnivore living in the southeastern United States.
Species in this family:
    American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)