What Is a Carnivore?

carnivore Credit: Umberto Salvagnin/CC-BY-2.0

The word "carnivore" can refer to one of two things: a predatory animal or mammals that are classified as members of the order Carnivora. Most members of Carnivora are flesh-eating, so listing these animals as examples would cover both definitions.

The members of Carnivora include some very familiar domestic animals as both cats and dogs belong to this group. Their relatives are also included, so wolves, foxes, coyotes, lions, tigers, and panthers are all possible examples.

Other members include hyenas, weasels, seals, bears, raccoons and the mongoose. The members of this order are characterized by their enlarged fangs or canines, specialized sharp molars and three incisors in both the top and bottom jaw. Almost all members of Carnivora eat flesh. One example of a member that does not eat flesh is the panda; however, it did have flesh-eating ancestors before it adapted to eating bamboo.

Some carnivores that are not members of Carnivora include Tasmanian devils (they are mammals like the others, but as marsupials they are only distantly related to Carnivora), monitor lizards, hawks, eagles and sharks. Carnivores as flesh-eating animals are also called predators, and in ecology they are called consumers. Most carnivores of the general type have sharp teeth and claws for grasping prey and causing fatal injury.