Carnivorous Animals distance learning course - learn about their evolution, biology, behaviours and more.

  • Gain essential knowledge on the physiological and behavioural traits that differentiate carnivores from other mammals.
  • Learn to explain differences in the biology of different species of carnivores.
  • Designed, written and taught by animal scientists and zoologists from the UK, Australia and America.
  • Study for professional development.

Study Carnivore Zoology - learn about the development and unique features attributable to carnivores.

  • Learn about the features of carnivores - Anatomical; Physiological; Behavioural.
  • Understand how a carnivores anatomy is uniquely developed for its diet and lifestyle.
  • Understand predominant behaviours in carnivores, including social, hunting, and territorial behaviours.
  • Learn about the origin, characteristics, behaviour and threats of different species.

Course Structure and Lesson Content

This course has 9 lessons as follows:

Lesson 1. Taxonomy and Evolution

  • Introduction
  • Distinguishing Characteristics of Carnivores
  • Taxonomy
  • Principles of Taxonomy - Modern Science Has Changed Taxonomy
  • Classification  of Carnivores - Case Study - Polar Bear, Evolution of Carnivores, Extinct Carnivores

Lesson 2. Carnivore Biology

  • Introduction
  • Musculo-Skeletal System - Types of Joints, Types of Muscles
  • Digestive System
  • Excretory System - Skin, Liver and Kidneys
  • Endocrine System
  • Nervous System - Sensory Neurones, Motor Neurones
  • Reproductive System - Case Study - Domestic Cat
  • Respiratory System
  • Anatomy Adaptations for Function - Feeding, Locomotion, Camouflage and Environmental Adaptations, Sight

Lesson 3. Carnivore Behaviour

  • Introduction to Animal Behaviour
  • Kinds of Behaviour, What Motivates Carnivore Behaviour
  • Learned Behviour
  • Classical Conditioning, Operant Conditioning
  • Physiology and Behaviour - Senses, Range and Distribution, Ecology, Longevity, Behaviour, Altruism, Reproduction, Predation, Pathogens and Parasites, Mating and Sexual Behaviour in Carnivores, Social Behaviours, Hunting Behaviours, Territories

4. Canines

  • Introduction
  • Genera - Atelocynus, Cerdocyon, Chrysocyon, Cuon, Dusicyon, Lycalopex, Lycaon, Nyctereutes, Otocyon, Vulpes

5. Felines

  • Introduction - Anatomy
  • The Big Cats (Pantherinae) - Panthera leo (African Lion), Panthera tigris (Tiger), Panthera pardus (Leopard), Panthera onca (Jaguar), Panthera uncia (Snow Leopard), Neofelis nebulosa (Clouded Leopard), Pardofelis marmorata (Marbled Cat)
    Felines (Felinae) - Genus Felis, Genus Prionailurus, Genus Leopardus

6. Bears

  • Introduction
  • Anatomy
  • Dentition
  • Lifespan
  • Hibernation
  • Mating and Reproduction
  • Living Species - Ursus americanus (American Black Bear), Ursus thibetanus (Asiatic Black Bear/Moon Bear), Ursus maritimus (Polar Bear), Helarctos malayanus (Sun Bear), Melursus urinus (Sloth Bear), Tremarctos ornatus (Andean Bear, Spectacled Bear), Ailuropoda melanoleuca (Giant Panda)

7. Aquatic Carnivores

  • Introduction
  • Family Otariidae (Fur Seals, Sea Lions)
  • Family Odobenida (Walrus)
  • Family Phocidae (True Seals)
  • Conservation Case Studies of Iconic Carnivores - Walrus

8. Mustalids

  • Introduction
  • Family Mustelidae (Weasels, Badgers, Otters)
  • Family Mephitidae (Skunks)

9. Other Carnivores

  • Introduction
  • Family Procyonidae (Raccoons, Allais)
  • Family Alirudae (Ailurus)
  • Family Viverridae (Civets, Genets, Linsangs)
  • Family Herpestidae (Mongooses)
  • Family Hyaenidae (Hyenas, Aardwolf)
  • Problem Based Learning Project

Course Aims

  • To discuss the characteristics, classification and significance of carnivorous animals to man, ecosystems and environments.
  • To describe anatomical and physiological features of carnivores, which differentiate carnivores from other types of mammals.
  • To explain carnivore behaviour.
  • To differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Canidae.
  • To differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Felidae.
  • To differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Ursidae.
  • To differentiate different types of canine animals that are aquatic.
  • To differentiate different types of animals belonging to the taxonomic family called Mustelidae and Mephitidae.
  • To differentiate different types of animals belonging to other taxonomic families. 

How Carnivores Differ From Other Mammals

Carnivores differ from other mammals as they are primarily a meat eating group, although some species are omnivorous also.  The main characteristic, when compared to other groups, are the teeth.  Carnivore teeth are designed to shred and slice through bone and meat.  The large canines and the specialised carnassial pair assist in killing the prey and then act like scissors to cut and tear flesh and tissues. The large molars at the back of the mouth grind tough meat and bones. It is the teeth which enable the carnivore to devour the meat.  We can differentiate this characteristic to rodents whose canine teeth are absent and they also have continuously growing incisors, which are more adapted for gnawing.  Aquatic species of carnivores do not have specialised teeth as they tend to swallow prey whole.

Carnivore adaptations for a meat diet also lead to their digestive tract.  Meat is relatively easy to digest so carnivores do have a simple stomach with a short intestine.  When compared to some ungulate species, we can really see how simple carnivore digestive systems really are.  Some ungulates are ruminant species, therefore their digestion is much more complicated.  Their digestive tract consists of four chambered stomach and a complicated process of regurgitation to further digest their food.  
Large jaw muscles are present in carnivores and this adaptation allows large prey to be tackled.  The relatively large brain case of carnivores and high intelligence reflects their need to analyse their high sensory inputs and use strategies to capture prey. Many carnivores are omnivorous, eating meat and other foods, and having high intelligence is typical of omnivores so they can distinguish and find their many food sources that vary seasonally. 

Professional and career development

The Carnivore Animals course provides foundation learning for people who are looking to pursue careers in caring for or working with animals in zoos, nature parks, in wildlife conservation and management, rescue centres and more.

Start at any time

You can enrol on Carnivore Animals at any time. You study at your own pace, and with online or eLearning study methods, you choose when and where you study.

At the end of each lesson there is an assignment for you to complete. You submit this to the School and it will be marked by your tutor and returned to you with comments and any suggestions for further research. If you have any questions whilst you are studying, your tutor will be more than happy to help.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the course or studying with ACS, please get in touch with us today. Our specialist Environmental Tutors will be more than happy to answer any of your questions. 

You can phone us on (UK) 01384 442753 or (outside UK) +44(0) 1384 442752, or

use our FREE COURSE COUNSELLING SERVICE to submit your questions to us.

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