Order: Carnivora
(Carnivores)


Family: Canidae
Family: Felidae
Family: Ursidae
Family: Procyonidae
Family: Mustelidae

Canidae - Coyotes, Foxes and Wolves
    Basically, all members of this family resemble dogs, which we are all so familiar with. They typically have a long, narrow muzzle, fairly erect, and somewhat triangular ears, fairly long and slender legs and a bushy tail. Some, such as wolves and coyotes are well known for their social organization. They travel and hung together, actually cooperating with one another on occasion. Foxes are less social. Most canids are active during the day, or morning and evening, and we often have opportunities to observe them. They have only one litter per year, and usually between 2 and 7 young. They male typically helps raise the young. Because they occasionally prey on domestic livestock they have been intensely persecuted by humans. However, some, such as the coyote, have resisted such efforts and continues to thrive alongside of humans. Some, such as the coyotes and wolves have been known to breed with domestic dogs. All are predators, and they usually achieve success by chasing their prey until they capture and kill them. Foxes rely on a stealthy stalk and a pounce on their prey to capture them.

Ursidae - Bears
    Bears are the largest terrestrial carnivores, ranging in size from 300 to 1700 pounds. Only two species, the black and the grizzly bear occur in Idaho and throughout the Rocky Mountains. While bears are classified as carnivores, they are primarily omnivorousClick word for definition, eating a mix of plant and animal matter. Their predatory habits are somewhat seasonal, depending on the availability of food. For example, black and grizzly bears will prey on elk calves for about 4 weeks after the calves are born. After 4 weeks, elk calves can outrun the bear. They utilize carrion in the spring after emerging from hibernationClick word for definition and plants at various times of the year. Bears are in a state of sleep throughout the winter, but their physiological state is not as "low" as hibernating rodents and others. Their body temperatures are elevated above the environmental temperature, and their breathing and heart rates are higher. Their reproductive potential is low with female bears producing a litter every other year at most. The young stay with the mother for up to two years. The males are only with the females during mating. Bears have been eliminated over much of their historic habitat because of conflicts with humans.

Procyonidae - Raccoons
    The Procyonidae family is only represented in Idaho by the raccoon. However, two other species exist far to the south, the ringtail and the coati. Also included in this family are the lesser pandas of Asia and other species in Central and South America. Those species in North America are characterized by long tails with dark and light banding (rings), and their teeth are adapted to an omnivorous diet. They are generally, good climbers and some nest in hollow tree trunks or large branches.

Mustelidae - Weasels, Skunks and Others
    The family Mustelidae includes weasels, the American marten, mink, otters, skunks and the badger as well as others. Surprisingly, the "weasel" family is named after the smallest member of the family, the weasel. It's appropriate, because weasels are small, very quick and active and ferocious predators, for their size. Most members of the family have a long, slender body, and short legs. This shape does not help them conserve body heat, or energy. They therefore, have a large appetite and a high rate of activity. In spite of this characterization, there is considerable diversity of appearance, from the weasels to the oval-shaped and squat badger, to the fluffy, soft but smelly skunks to the sleek and rather large river otters. Their reproductive system includes in most species, delayed implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus. This adaptation allows mating and birth to occur when food is more plentiful. They have paired, anal scent glands which, give them a "musky" smell. We humans find this smell offensive, but it is important in communication for mustelids. In its extreme skunks use it for defense. This family, though small in size is a diverse and noteworthy group of carnivores.

Felidae - Cats
    Members of this family are especially well adapted to effective predation, and represent the truest of carnivores, eating meat almost entirely. Most have long, sleek bodies with powerful legs, and short heads with rounded ears. Their eyes face directly forward and provide excellent binocular visionClick word for definition, which provides good depth perception. They have excellent night vision and move about at will on the darkest of nights. Their dentitionClick word for definition is well adapted to a very pure form of carnivorous diet. Their canines (fangs) are sharp for killing their prey, usually by biting the neck and piercing the spinal cord. Their upper and lower molars form a sharp shearing edge for cutting their meat into chunks which they swallow. They typically have long claws, which they retract when moving about, but extend them when capturing prey for grasping and slashing their prey. They move about their environment alone, with the exception of females with kittens.


Written by Don Streubel, 2001
Page design by Ean Harker ©2000.