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Adaptations and evolution
in terrestrial carnivores

by Anders Hansson, 1996


A review of adaptations in fossil and extant mammalian carnivores has been made. Adaptations to different locomotor behaviours can be seen in the postcranial skeleton. Typically cursorial adaptations are long distal limb segments and restrictions in the mobility of the limbs to move in other directions than forward and backward. Diggers have fore limbs constructed for large out-forces. Climbers have mobile limbs and curved, retractile claws. To what extent meat is a part of the diet can be interpreted from the dentition. Pure meat eaters have lost all the crushing area of the molars and have long anteroposterior directed cutting blades. The long canines in saber-toothed forms were probably an adaptation to kill large prey.

The creodonts were the dominating carnivores during the early Tertiary but they were replaced by the Carnivora in the beginning of the Oligocene. Compared to extant carnivores, many fossil forms were heavily built and short limbed. Cursorial adaptations became common in the early Miocene when extensive grass land areas had developed. There have been a limited number of adaptive zones for carnivores through their history.


Carnivora, Creodonta, locomotor adaptations, skeleton, dentition, jaws, carnassials, saber-tooths, evolution.

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