As treated by Wilson and Mittermeier (2009), the mammalian order Carnivora includes 281 species in 128 genera and 16 families, although the number of species and genera recognized can be expected to fluctuate slightly as a result of new research and based on the opinions of different experts (see family taxon pages for more specific information). Of these 16 families, seven are in the suborder Feliformia and nine are in the suborder Caniformia:
Suborder Feliformia: 120 species in 56 genera
Family Nandiniidae (African Palm Civet): 1 species in 1 genus
Family Felidae (cats): 37 species in 14 genera
Family Prionodontidae (linsangs): 2 species in 1 genus
Family Viverridae (civets, genets, oyans): 34 species in 14 genera
Family Hyaenidae (hyenas): 4 species in 4 genera
Family Herpestidae (mongooses): 34 species in 15 genera
Family Eupleridae (Madagascar carnivores): 8 species in 7 genera
Suborder Caniformia: 161 species in 72 genera
Family Canidae (dogs): 35 species in 13 genera
Family Ursidae (bears): 8 species in 5 genera
Family Otariidae (sea lions): 16 species in 7 genera
Family Odobenidae (Walrus): 1 species in 1 genus
Family Phocidae (earless seals): 19 species in 13 genera
Family Ailuridae (red panda): 1 species in 1 genus
Family Procyonidae (raccoons and relatives): 12 species in 6 genera
Family Mephitidae (skunks): 12 species in 4 genera
Family Mustelidae (weasels and relatives): 57 species in 22 genera
Mammals in the order Carnivora are often referred to as carnivores. This can be confusing, however, since in both popular and scientific usage "carnivore" also means simply "meat-eating"--but many mammals not in the order Carnivora also feed largely or exclusively on meat and many members of the Carnivora are quite omnivorous (and African Palm Civets eat mainly fruit!). For clarity, therefore, some authors prefer to use the term "carnivoran" to refer to a member of the order Carnivora.
The order Carnivora is a morphologically and ecologically diverse group that is distributed across the globe and includes many of the animals humans find most "charismatic". Carnivorans range across five or six orders of magnitude in size from the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis, which can weigh in at as little as 25 g when fully grown; Larivère and Jennings 2009) to the Southern Elephant Seal (Mirounga leonina, weighing in at 2000 to 3000 kg--possibly as much as 5000kg) (Agnarsson et al. 2010; Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds 2012).
The phylogenetic relationships among the carnivoran families have been the focus of considerable research and controversy, although the structure of some clades is now well established (see references below and EOL family pages for details). One well established finding is that the two suborders comprising the order Carnivora, Feliformia and Caniformia, are indeed reciprocally monophyletic.
- Agnarsson, I., M. Kuntner, and L.J. May-Collado. 2010. Dogs, cats, and kin: A molecular species-level phylogeny of Carnivora. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 54: 726-745.
- Eizirik, E., W.J. Murphy, K.P. Koepfli, W.E. Johnson, J.W. Dragoo, and S.J. O'Brien. 2010. Pattern and timing of the diversification of the mammalian order Carnivora inferred from multiple nuclear gene sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 56: 49-63.
- Flynn, J.J., J.A. Finarelli, S. Zehr, et. al. 2005. Molecular Phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): Assessing the Impact of Increased Sampling on Resolving Enigmatic Relationships. Systematic Biology 54(2): 317-337.
- Larivère, S. and A.P. Jennings. 2009. Family Mustelidae (Weasels and Relatives). Pp. 564-656 in: Wilson, D.E. & Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Nyakatura, K. and O.R.P. Bininda-Emonds. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): a new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology 10:12. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-10-12
- Sato, J.J., M. Wolsan, F.J. Prevosti, et al. 2012. Evolutionary and biogeographic history of weasel-like carnivorans (Musteloidea). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 63: 745-757.
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