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Temporal range: Eocene-Holocene
Feliform portraits.jpg
Several extant feliform families: Eupleridae, Felidae, Hyaenidae, Herpestidae and Viverridae
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Kretzoi, 1945

Feliformia (also Feloidea) is a suborder within the order Carnivora consisting of "cat-like" carnivorans, including cats (large and small), hyenas, mongooses, viverrids, and related taxa. Feliformia stands in contrast to the other suborder of Carnivora, Caniformia (also Canoidea, "dog-like" carnivorans). [1]


The separation of the Carnivora into the broad groups of feliforms and caniforms is widely accepted, as is the definition of Feliformia and Caniformia as suborders (sometimes superfamilies). The classification of feliforms as part of the Feliformia suborder or under separate groupings continues to evolve.

Systematic classifications dealing with only extant taxa include all feliforms into the Feliformia suborder, though variations exist in the definition and grouping of families and genera. [2] [3] Indeed, molecular phylogenies suggest that all extant Feliformia are monophyletic. [4]

The extant families as reflected in the taxa chart at right and the discussions in this article reflect the most contemporary and well-supported views (as at the time of writing this article).

Systematic classifications dealing with both extant and extinct taxa vary more widely. [5] [6] Some separate the feliforms (extant and extinct) as: Aeluroidea (superfamily) and Feliformia (suborder). [6] Others include all feliforms (extant, extinct and "possible ancestors") into the Feliformia suborder. [5] Some studies suggest this inclusion of "possible ancestors" into Feliformia (or even Carnivora) may be spurious. [7] The extinct (†) families as reflected in the taxa chart are the least problematic in terms of their relationship with extant feliforms (with the most problematic being Nimravidae).


Feliformia skull showing double-chambered bullae Feliformia Skull v01-2.jpg
Feliformia skull showing double-chambered bullae

All extant feliforms share a common attribute: their auditory bullae (bony capsules enclosing the middle and inner ear). [8] This is a key diagnostic in classifying species as feliform versus caniform. In feliforms, the auditory bullae are double-chambered, composed of two bones joined by a septum. Caniforms have single-chambered or partially divided auditory bullae, composed of a single bone. This feature, however, is problematic for the classification of the extinct Nimravidae as feliforms. Nimravid fossils show ossified bullae with no septum, or no trace at all of the entire bulla. It is assumed that they had a cartilaginous housing of the ear mechanism. [9]

The specific characteristics of extant feliform bullae suggest a common ancestor, though one has not been identified in the fossil records. There are other characteristics that differentiate feliforms from caniforms and probably existed in their stem taxa. But, due to speciation, these do not apply unambiguously to all extant species.

Feliforms tend to have shorter rostrums (snouts) than caniforms, fewer teeth, and more specialized carnassials. Feliforms tend to be more carnivorous and are generally ambush hunters. Caniforms tend more toward omnivorous and opportunity-based feeding. However, omnivorous feliforms also exist, particularly in the family Viverridae.

Many feliforms have retractile or semi-retractile claws and many are arboreal or semi-arboreal. Feliforms also tend to be more digitigrade (walking on toes). In contrast, most caniforms are terrestrial and have non-retractile claws.

Extant families

A 1739 advert by Charles Benjamin Incledon featuring feliforms: the Mesopotamian lion from the vicinity of Bassorah, Cape lion, tiger from the East Indies, panther from Buenos Aires, Hyaena hyaena from West Africa, and leopard from Turkey, besides a "Man tyger" from Africa. Bodleian Libraries, Handbill of Merchant's Hall, 1739, announcing A lion, lionesses, tigers, etc..jpg
A 1739 advert by Charles Benjamin Incledon featuring feliforms: the Mesopotamian lion from the vicinity of Bassorah, Cape lion, tiger from the East Indies, panther from Buenos Aires, Hyaena hyaena from West Africa, and leopard from Turkey, besides a "Man tyger" from Africa.
Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) Fossa.jpg
Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox)
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) Cheetah4.jpg
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) Crocuta crocuta sideview.jpg
Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) Suricata.jpg
Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)
Binturong (Arctictis binturong) Binturong in Overloon.jpg
Binturong (Arctictis binturong)

There are seven extant families, twelve subfamilies, 56 genera and 114 species in the Feliformia suborder. They range natively across all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Most species are arboreal or semi-arboreal ambush hunters. Target prey varies based on the species size and available food sources (with the larger species feeding mainly on small mammals and the smallest species feeding on insects or invertebrates).

An overview of each family is provided here. For detailed taxa and descriptions of the species in each family, follow the links to other articles and external references.

Family Eupleridae (the "Malagasy carnivorans") includes fossa, falanouc, Malagasy civet and Malagasy mongooses, all of which are restricted to the island of Madagascar. The eight species in the family exhibit significant variations in form. These differences initially led to the species in this family sharing common names with, and being placed in the different families of, apparently more similar species on the mainland (e.g. civets and mongoose). However, phylogenetic analysis of DNA provides strong evidence that all Malagasy carnivorans evolved from a single common ancestor that was a herpestid (Yoder et al. 2003). [10] [11] Phylogenetic analysis supports this view and places all of the Malagasy carnivorans in the family Eupleridae. [12]

The differences in form make it difficult to concisely summarise the species in this family. The range in size is as diverse as the range in form, with smaller species at less than 500 g (1 lb) and the largest species at up to 12 kg (26 lb). Some have retractile or semi-retractile claws (the fossa and the Malagasy civet) and others do not (the falanouc and Malagasy mongooses). They all tend to have slender bodies and pointed rostra (except the fossa, which has a blunt snout). Diet varies with size and form of the species and, like their mainland counterparts, ranges from small mammals, insects and invertebrates through to crustaceans and molluscs.

Family Felidae (cats) are the most widespread of the "cat-like" carnivorans. There are 41 extant species, and all but a few have retractile claws. This family is represented on all continents except Australia (where domestic cats have been introduced) and the Antarctic. The species vary in size from the tiny black-footed cat (Felis nigripes) at only 2 kg (4.5 lb) to the tiger (Panthera tigris) at 300 kg (660 lb). Diet ranges from large to small mammals, birds and insects (depending on species size).

Family Hyaenidae (hyenas and aardwolf) has four extant species and two subspecies. All show features of convergent evolution with canids, including non-retractile claws, long muzzles, and adaptations to running for long distances. They are extant in the Middle East, India and Africa. Hyenas are large, powerful animals, up to 80 kg (176 lb) and represent one of the most prolific large carnivorans on the planet. The aardwolf is much smaller at 27 kg (60 lb) and is a specialised feeder, eating mainly harvester termites.

Family Herpestidae (the mongooses, kusimanses, meerkat, etc.) has 32 species. Previously, these were placed in the family Viverridae. However, Wilson and Reeder (1993) established the herpestids as morphologically and genetically distinct from viverrids. They are extant in Africa, Middle East and Asia. All have non-retractile claws. They are smaller as a family, ranging from 1 kg (2.2 lb) to 5 kg (11 lb), and typically have long, slender bodies and short legs. Diet varies based on species size and available food sources, ranging from small mammals, birds to reptiles, insects and crabs. Some species are omnivorous, including fruits and tubers in their diet.

Family Nandiniidae (African palm civet) has only one species (Nandinia binotata), extant across sub-Saharan Africa. They have retractile claws and are slender-bodied, arboreal omnivores (with fruit making up much of their diet). They are relatively small with the larger males weighing up to 5 kg (11 lb).

Family Prionodontidae (the Asiatic linsangs) has two extant species in one genus. They live in Southern-East Asia. All are arboreal hypercarnivorans. They are the closest living relatives of the family Felidae. [13]

Family Viverridae has 30 living species including binturong, large Indian civet, genets and oyans. They all have long bodies, short legs with retractile claws, and usually long tails. In weight, the species range from 0.5–14 kg (1.1–30.9 lb). Some occur in Southern Europe, but most in Africa and Asia. Their diet ranges from fruit and plants to insects, crustaceans and molluscs, and small mammals.


Feliform evolutionary timeline Feliform Timeline.svg
Feliform evolutionary timeline

In the Middle Palaeocene (60 million years ago), Miacoidea appears. Miacoids were a group of paraphyletic taxa believed to be basal to Carnivora. They had Carnivora-like carnassials but lacked fully ossified auditory bullae. Miacids were small arboreal carnivorans and, based on their size (roughly that of mongooses), they probably fed on insects, small mammals and birds.

The miacoids are divided into two groups: the miacids, with a full complement of molars, and the viverravines with a reduced number of molars and more specialized carnassials. These dental differences resemble the difference between Caniforms (with more teeth) and Feliforms (with fewer teeth) but this may not mean evolutionary lineages. It was thought that Viverravidae was basal to the Feliforms. However, some studies suggest this is not the case. [7]

In the Middle Eocene (about 42 mya), the miacids started to branch into two distinct groups of the order Carnivora: the Feliforms and Caniforms. The miacid precursors to the extant Feliforms remained forest-dwelling, arboreal or semi-arboreal ambush hunters, while the Caniform precursors were more mobile, opportunistic hunters. While it is clear that the first Feliforms appeared at this time, there is no clear common ancestor of the Feliform families in the fossil records. As forest dwellers, the early Feliforms were subject to more rapid decomposition in the absence of sedimentary materials, resulting in large gaps in the fossil records.

For more discussion on feliform evolution and the divergence from the caniforms, together with additional external references on this subject, see the articles on Carnivora, Miacoidea and Carnivoramorpha.


Family Stenoplesictidae is a polyphyletic family of extinct viverrid-like feliforms.

Phylogenetic tree

The phylogenetic relationships of feliforms are shown in the following cladogram [16] [20] [21] [22]


Nimravidae (false saber-toothed cats) Dinictis Knight.jpg


Nandiniidae (African palm civet) The carnivores of West Africa (Nandinia binotata white background).png


Felidae (cats) Stamp-russia2014-save-russian-cats-(snow leopard).png




Prionodontidae (Asiatic linsangs) Prionodon maculosus.png


Viverridae (viverrids) Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) white background.jpg



Hyaenidae (hyaenas) Hyaena maculata - 1818-1842 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam -(white background).jpg

Percrocutidae Dinocrocuta gigantea.jpg

Herpestidae (mongooses) Lydekker - Broad-banded Cusimanse (white background).JPG

Eupleridae (Malagasy mongooses) Cryptoprocta ferox - 1700-1880 - Print - Iconographia Zoologica - Special Collections University of Amsterdam -(white background).png

Related Research Articles

Carnivora Order of mammals

Carnivora is an order of placental mammals that have specialized in primarily eating flesh. Its members are formally referred to as carnivorans, though some species are omnivorous, such as raccoons and bears, and quite a few species such as pandas are specialized herbivores. The word 'carnivore' is derived from Latin carō "flesh" and vorāre "to devour", it refers to any meat-eating organism. The order Carnivora is the fifth largest order of mammals and one of the more successful members of the group; it comprises at least 279 species living on every major landmass and in a variety of habitats, ranging the cold polar regions to the hyper-arid region of the Sahara Desert to the open seas. They come in a huge array of different body plans in contrasting shapes and sizes. The smallest carnivoran is the least weasel with a body length of about 11 cm (4.3 in) and a weight of about 25 g (0.88 oz). The largest is the southern elephant seal, with adult males weighing up to 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) and measuring up to 6.7 m (22 ft). All species of carnivorans are descended from a group of mammals which were related to today's pangolins, having appeared in North America 6 million years after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. These early ancestors of carnivorans would have resembled small weasel or genet-like mammals, occupying a nocturnal shift on the forest floor or in the trees, as other groups of mammals like the mesonychians and creodonts were occupying the top faunivorous niche. However, by the time Miocene epoch appeared, most if not all of the major lineages and families of carnivorans had diversified and took over this niche.

Viverridae family of mammals, the viverrids

Viverridae is a family of small to medium-sized mammals, the viverrids, comprising 15 genera, which are subdivided into 38 species. This family was named and first described by John Edward Gray in 1821. Viverrids occur all over Africa, into southern Europe, in South and Southeast Asia across the Wallace Line. Their occurrence in Sulawesi and in some of the adjoining islands shows them to be ancient inhabitants of the Old World tropics.

Asiatic linsang genus of mammals

The Asiatic linsang (Prionodon) is a genus comprising two species native to Southeast Asia: the banded linsang and the spotted linsang. Prionodon is considered a sister taxon of the Felidae.

African palm civet species of mammal

The African palm civet, also known as the two-spotted palm civet, is a small feliform mammal widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Caniformia suborder of mammals

Caniformia is a suborder within the order Carnivora consisting of "dog-like" carnivorans. They include dogs, bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, badgers, seals and mustelids. The Pinnipedia are also assigned to this group. The center of diversification for Caniformia is North America and northern Eurasia. Caniformia stands in contrast to the other suborder of Carnivora, Feliformia, the center of diversification of which was in Africa and southern Asia.

Mammal classification

Mammalia is a class of animal within the phylum Chordata. Mammal classification has been through several iterations since Carl Linnaeus initially defined the class. No classification system is universally accepted; McKenna & Bell (1997) and Wilson & Reader (2005) provide useful recent compendiums. Many earlier ideas from Linnaeus et al. have been completely abandoned by modern taxonomists, among these are the idea that bats are related to birds or that humans represent a group outside of other living things. Competing ideas about the relationships of mammal orders do persist and are currently in development. Most significantly in recent years, cladistic thinking has led to an effort to ensure that all taxonomic designations represent monophyletic groups. The field has also seen a recent surge in interest and modification due to the results of molecular phylogenetics.

Fossa (animal) Cat-like, carnivorous mammal endemic to Madagascar

The fossa is a cat-like, carnivorous mammal endemic to Madagascar. It is a member of the Eupleridae, a family of carnivorans closely related to the mongoose family Herpestidae. Its classification has been controversial because its physical traits resemble those of cats, yet other traits suggest a close relationship with viverrids. Its classification, along with that of the other Malagasy carnivores, influenced hypotheses about how many times mammalian carnivores have colonized Madagascar. With genetic studies demonstrating that the fossa and all other Malagasy carnivores are most closely related to each other forming a clade, recognized as the family Eupleridae, carnivorans are now thought to have colonized the island once, around 18 to 20 million years ago.

Spotted linsang species of mammal

The spotted linsang is a linsang, a tree-dwelling carnivorous mammal, found throughout much of Southeast Asia. It is widely, though usually sparsely, recorded, and listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

Miacidae family of mammals

Miacids are extinct primitive carnivoramorphans within the family Miacidae that lived during the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, about 62–34 million years ago. Miacids existed for approximately 28 million years.

Eupleridae family of carnivorans

Eupleridae is a family of carnivorans endemic to Madagascar and comprising 10 known living species in seven genera, commonly known as euplerids, Malagasy mongooses or Malagasy carnivorans. The best known species is the fossa, in the subfamily Euplerinae. All species of Euplerinae were formerly classified as viverrids, while all species in the subfamily Galidiinae were classified as herpestids.

Galidiinae subfamily of carnivorans

Galidiinae is a subfamily of carnivorans that is restricted to Madagascar and includes six species classified into four genera. Together with the three other species of indigenous Malagasy carnivorans, including the fossa, they are currently classified in the family Eupleridae within the suborder Feliformia. Galidiinae are the smallest of the Malagasy carnivorans, generally weighing about 600 to 900 g. They are agile, short-legged animals with long, bushy tails.

Carnivoramorpha clade of mammals

Carnivoramorpha are a clade of mammals that includes the modern order Carnivora.

Civet Mammals of the families Viverridae and Nandiniidae

A civet is a small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa, especially the tropical forests. The term civet applies to over a dozen different mammal species. Most of the species diversity is found in southeast Asia. The best-known civet species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta, which historically has been the main species from which a musky scent used in perfumery was obtained. The word civet may also refer to the distinctive musky scent produced by the animals.

Viverroidea infraorder of mammals in the order Carnivora

Viverroidea is an infraorder of feliformia, containing both the family Viverridae, and the superfamily Herpestoidea.

Viverrinae subfamily of mammals, the viverrids

The Viverrinae represent the largest subfamily within the Viverridae comprising five genera, which are subdivided into 22 species native to Africa and Southeast Asia. This subfamily was denominated and first described by John Edward Gray in 1864.

<i>Poiana</i> (genus) genus of mammals

The African linsangs also known as oyans are two species classified in the mammalian subfamily Viverrinae, in the family Viverridae. There is one genus, Poiana.

Euplerinae subfamily of carnivorans

Euplerinae, more commonly known as malagasy civets, is a subfamily of carnivorans that includes four species restricted to Madagascar. Together with the subfamily Galidiinae, which also only occurs on Madagascar, it forms the family Eupleridae. Members of this subfamily, which include the fossa, falanoucs and Malagasy civet, were placed in families like Felidae and Viverridae before genetic data indicated their consanguinity with other Madagascar carnivorans. Within the subfamily, the falanouc and Malagasy civet are more closely related to each other than to the fossa.


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