Evolution

Seven Odd Carnivores You've Never Heard Of

12/22/2011

This planet is filled with some really strange animals.  There's a new book out there that looks at one group: carnivores.  Appropriately entitled Carnivores of the World, the book is a field guide and encyclopedia of the world's 245 terrestrial species of true carnivores.

By true carnivores I mean members of the mammalian order Carnivora which author Luke Hunter describes as such:

"...which, despite remarkable variation in size and shape, all descend from a small civet-like carnivorous ancester that lived over 60 million years ago.  Some modern carnivores eat little meat, or as in the case of the Giant Panda, none at all, but all members of the Carnivora trace their ancestry back to the same predatory origins, and retain many of the physical, behavioural and ecological adaptations common to their truly carnivorous relatives."

So even though there are non-mammal meat-eating creatures that we call carnivores (crocodiles for example) and mammals that eat other animals (bats), neither are included in the Carnivora order.

I got a review copy of the book (much to my nature-geek delight) and as I was flipping through it I was struck at how strange some of these creatures are, and how little-known many of them are as well.

So without further ado, here are seven odd carnivores that you've probably never heard of.

Binturong

Binturong are a kind of civet native to India and parts of Southeast Asia.  They are utterly alien-looking to most Westerns, mostly because there are no civet species outside of Asia and Africa.  Their English name is "bearcat" and you can see why; they look like a weird hybrid of the two.  To me they look like something Dr. Suess would have created.  These tree-dwelling creatures do eat meat but mostly their diet is made up of fruits and other plant material. Oh, and their natural smell is that of buttered popcorn.  No joke!

Binturong

Tibetan Fox

Tibetan foxes are just plain weird-looking with their big, boxy heads.  Native to the Tibetan Plateau in India and throughout southern China, these foxes eat everything from small mammals to birds to lizards to carrion.  They typically form monogomous pairs, but there have been recorded instances of threesomes raising kits.

Tibetan_Fox


Ringtail

Yes, ringtails are related to raccoons.  The tail is a dead giveaway.  But they are also smaller and more secretive.  That secretiveness is what I think makes them odd.  Unlike their bolder cousins, ringtails are almost never seen even though they common and are found from southern Oregen down throughout the Southwest.  They are "backyard wildlife" that many people don't even know exist.

Ringtail


Fosa

Fosas look like a cross between a cat and an otter, but they're not related to either.  These carnivorous creatures are found only on the island nation of Madagascar in Africa.  In fact, fosa are the largest predator in Madagascar and regularly feed on primates such as lemurs.  In the absence of true felines in Madagascar, the fosa has evolved a similar body type in a great example of convergent evolution.

Fosa


Pallas Cat

Pallas cats look like your pet cat on steroids.  One of twenty-eight "small cat" species that on the surface look very similar to domestic cats, pallas cats are found in Central Asia from Iran and Afghanistan east to China, Mongolia and Russia.  They live in dry, arid environments and have a thick coat to protect them from the cold, which contributes to their bulky appearance.  Sadly, one of their biggest threats is domestic dogs that are following ever-encroaching human populations.

Pallas_Cat


Kermode and Cinnamon Bears

Kermode and cinnamon bears are odd because they are actually black bears.  Black bears that have white or brown fur...which are naturally occuring color variations found in specific populations.  Kermode bears can be found only in coastal British Columbia and cinnamon bears is common throughout the West.

Kermode_Black_Bear

Honey Badger

Honey badgers came into the spolight when the YouTube voiceover genius known only as Randall dubbed a new narration to a video clip from a nature documentary about these African carnivores.  As funny as Randall's narration is, it pretty accurately describes the natural tenacity of the honey badger.

Honey_Badger


Illustrations by Priscilla Barrett


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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