What Are Carnivores? - Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 What is a Carnivore?
  • 0:55 Physical Adaptations
  • 2:15 Behavior
  • 2:48 Hunting & Reintroduction
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

In this lesson, you'll learn about carnivores, including their physical and behavioral attributes and the important role they play in our ecosystem. You'll also read about what has happened to them since humans came along.

What Is a Carnivore?

What immediately springs to mind when you think of predators and hunters in the wild? Is it big-toothed, fast-moving creatures, such as lions, tigers and bears? These types of predators are called carnivores. They are animals that eat other animals as their main source of nutrition and are usually physically designed to effectively hunt, capture and consume their prey.

In the United States, there are many species of carnivores, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, red foxes, gray wolves, fishers, hawks, eagles and wolverines, to name a few. In other regions of the world, commonly recognized carnivores also include lions, tigers, hyenas and cheetahs. The largest land carnivore is the polar bear, and the largest aquatic carnivore is the Southern elephant seal.

Carnivores don't always have to be large to capture their prey, however. One very interesting, medium-sized carnivore is the honey badger. These furry mammals eat mainly mice, squirrels and gophers. They look relatively harmless at first glance, but if you were to corner a honey badger, you would see its aggressive side and understand firsthand why these animals are often considered the meanest animal on Earth!

Physical Adaptations

Carnivores have several physical adaptations that enable them to be effective hunters and consumers. For example, their eyes are specially designed for hunting. The eyes of a carnivore are located on the front of its head, which makes it possible for them to have depth perception. Depth perception is important to hunting because it enables the animal to determine how far away a prey is and how fast it's moving.

Most carnivores also have very powerful jaws and sharp teeth, which make it possible for them to bite and hold large, strong prey. This adaptation makes carnivores successful hunters because it helps them to capture and kill their prey.

Unlike herbivores, which are plant eaters and have teeth designed for chewing vegetation, carnivores have teeth that are designed for ripping meat from their prey. The sharp incisors and canines are for biting and tearing apart meat. The premolars and molars of carnivores are mainly for chewing, and they are sharper than the premolars and molars found in herbivores.


Carnivores are often very secretive animals and are rarely seen by people. Some carnivores are also solitary, meaning that they travel alone and are rarely seen by members of their own species. However, at times they do need to communicate with potential mates or other competitors. One way that some carnivores communicate is through vocalizations, such as howling. Another way is by leaving scent marks or scat, which is fecal matter. Carnivores rub against trees to leave their scent behind or drop their scat in trails or rocks to leave a message to other animals.

Hunting & Reintroduction

Over the years, humans have hunted carnivores, sometimes in large numbers, for their meat or to protect themselves, their land or their animals. As a result, some carnivore populations have decreased drastically, which has sometimes had a large impact on the other species in the environment.

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