In this unit, we will examine the biology of the impressive meat eaters (e.g. wolves, lions and cheetahs), focusing in part on the biological ‘equipment’ – slashing and gripping teeth, for example – and on the less obvious behavioural characteristics that have contributed to the undoubted success of these fearsome hunters. Many of the meat eaters live and hunt in groups, which raises intriguing questions about the advantages of group living and the types of social behaviour between individuals that help maintain group coherence.

This is the fifth in a series of units about studying mammals. To get the most from these units, you will need access to a copy of The Life of Mammals (2002) by David Attenborough, BBC Books (ISBN 0563534230), and The Life of Mammals (2002) on DVD, which contains the associated series of ten BBC TV programmes. OpenLearn unit S182_8 Studying mammals: life in the trees contains samples from the DVD set. You should begin each unit by watching the relevant TV programme on the DVD and reading the corresponding chapter in The Life of Mammals. You will be asked to rewatch specific sequences from the programme as you work through the unit.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • describe some of the characteristic features of carnivores;
  • outline the dentition of carnivores and its link with diet;
  • outline some of the behavioural and sensory characteristics of carnivores, with examples;
  • explain, with examples, the roles that vision and smell play in the lives of carnivores;
  • explain the variety of ways in which carnivores assemble in groups;
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of group living;
  • explain the factors that may influence hunting success in carnivores;
  • give examples of ways in which conflict within groups is minimised.