Many carnivorans are top predators in their ecosystems, and therefore do not face the threat of predation as adults, though their young may be vulnerable. Small terrestrial carnivorans face predation by larger carnivorans, and by diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey. Pinnipeds face predation by large cetaceans such as killer whales (Orcinus orca) and by sharks. Many carnivorans, large and small, terrestrial and aquatic, are hunted by humans.
Most carnivorans use their teeth and claws to fend off predators. A carnivore that feels threatened typically crouches and bares its teeth, hissing or growling at its attacker and biting and scratching if the attacker gets too close. Pinnipeds, on the other hand, rely largely on their speed and agility in the water to escape predators. Female carnivorans often hide their helpless infants in a den, and may switch the den location occasionally to avoid detection. Some carnivoran parents are also known to vigorously defend their offspring if necessary. Many carnivorans are the same color as their background (such as Arctic foxes, which turn white in winter to match the snow). They also frequently exhibit countershading or color patterns, such as spots and stripes, that break up their outline and make them difficult to see. A few carnivorans have special adaptations to defend themselves against predators. Skunks and some mustelids, herpestids, and viverrids have well-developed anal glands, which produce a foul-smelling musk that is released under stress. These animals usually bear aposematic coloration in the form of contrasting stripes and bands, warning would-be predators to stay away. Finally, it has been postulated that some carnivorans mimic others to avoid predation. For example, the coloration of cheetah cubs, which are highly vulnerable to predation, may mimic that of honey badgers, which are aposematic and highly aggressive.
- larger carnivores (Carnivora)
- diurnal birds of prey (Falconiformes)
- owls (Strigiformes)
- cetaceans (Cetacea)
- killer whales (Orcinus orca)
- sharks (Chondrichthyes)
- humans (Homo sapiens)
Anti-predator Adaptations: mimic; aposematic ; cryptic
- Eaton, R. 1976. A possible case of mimicry in larger mammals. Evolution, 30(4): 853-856.
- Korpimaki, E., K. Norrdahl. 1989. Avian predation on mustelids in Europe 1. Occurrence and effects on body size variation and life traits. Oikos, 55(2): 205-215.
- Ortolani, A., T. Caro. 1996. The adaptive significance of color patterns in carnivores: Phylogenetic tests of classic hypotheses. Pp. 132-188 in J Gittleman, ed. Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, vol. 2. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.