name = Feliformia
fossil_range = Eocene to Recent

image_width = 200px
image_caption = Tiger ("Panthera tigris")
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Mammalia
ordo = Carnivora
subordo = Feliformia
subordo_authority = Kretzoi, 1945
subdivision_ranks = Families
subdivision =
* †Barbourofelidae
* Eupleridae
* Felidae
* Herpestidae
* Hyaenidae
* Nandiniidae
* †Nimravidae
* †Stenoplesictidae
* †Percrocutidae
* Viverridae
The Feliformia ('cat-like' carnivores, also Feloidea) are a suborder within the order Carnivora and includes the 'true-cats' (large and small), hyenas, mongooses, civets and related taxa. The other suborder of Carnivora is Caniformia ('dog-like' carnivores). One shared characteristic distinguishes Carnivora from all other mammals: the possession of the four carnassial teeth in the front of the jaw.

The separation of 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 Feliform families as part of the Feliformia suborder or under separate groupings continues to evolve.

Systematic classifications dealing with only extant taxa [#ExRefs| [1,2] include all Feliforms into the Feliformia suborder, though variations exist in the definition and grouping of families and genera. 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. Some [#ExRefs| [4] separate the Feliforms (extant and extinct) as: Aeluroidea (superfamily) and Feliformia (suborder). Others [#ExRefs| [3] include all Feliforms (extant, extinct and 'possible ancestors') into the Feliformia suborder. Recent studies suggest this inclusion of 'possible ancestors' into Feliformia (or even Carnivora) may be spurious (Wesley-Hunt and Flynn 2005) [#ExRefs| [5] . The extinct (†) families as reflected in the taxa chart at right are the least problematic in terms of their relationship with extant Feliforms (with the most problematic being Nimravidae).

All extant Feliforms share a common attribute -- their auditory bullae (bony capsules enclosing the middle and inner ear). 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.

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 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.

Most Feliforms have retractile (retractable) or semi-retractile claws and many are arboreal or semi-arboreal. Feliforms also tend to be more digitigrade (walking on toes). In contrast, Caniforms are terrestrial (except Procyonidae), have non-retractile claws and (except for the Canidae) tend to be plantigrade.

Extant families

There are six 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 large 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 carnivores') includes Fossa, Falanouc, Malagasy Civet and Malagasy mongooses, all of which are restricted to the island of Madagascar. There are eight species in the family though variations in form are significant. 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 carnivores evolved from a single common ancestor that was a herpestid (Yoder et al. 2003) [#ExRefs| [6a,6b] . Recent phylogenetic analysis supports this view and places all of the Malagasy carnivores in the family Eupleridae (Gaubert et al. 2005) [#ExRefs| [7] .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 that 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, Cheetah, Lion, Ocelot, etc.) are the best-known of "cat-like" carnivores. There are 39 extant species, and all but a few have retractile claws. This family is represented on all continents except Australia 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 have non-retractile claws. They are extant in the Middle East, India and Africa. Hyenas are large, powerful animals, up to 80 kg (176 lb) and represent one the most prolific large carnivores 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 Viverridae family. 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 Viverridae (the Binturong, civets, genets, Asiatic and African linsang) has 30 extant species and all have retractile claws. They are extant in Southern Europe, Africa and Asia. They range in size from 500g (1 lb) up to medium-sized carnivores at 14kg (39 lb). They have long bodies and short legs and usually have long tails (some prehensile). Diet ranges from small mammals and insects through to crustaceans and molluscs.


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

The miacids are divided into two groups: the miacines, 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, recent studies suggest this is not the case (Wesley-Hunt and John J. Flynn 2005) [#Ref:5| [5] .

In the Middle Eocene (about 40 mya) the miacids started to branch into two distinct groups of the order Carnivora: the Feliforms and Caniforms. The miacid precursors to the Feliforms remained forest-dwelling, arboreal or semi-arboreal ambush hunters, while the Caniform precursors were more mobile, opportunistic hunters. While it is clear 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.

The diagram below presents a contemporary view of Feliform evolution and familial relationships (cladogram) overlaid onto the geological time scale. The information presented is based on fossil records and systematic classifications. For more discussion on Feliform evolution and the divergence from the Caniforms, together with additional external references on this subject, see the article on Carnivora.

clade | style=font-size:85%;line-height:85%
label1 = Feliformia
1 = clade
1 = Nimravidae
2 = clade
1 = Stenoplesictidae
2 = Percrocutidae

3 = Nandiniidae
4 = clade
1 = clade
1 = Prionodontidae
2 = clade
1 = Barbourofelidae
2 = Felidae

2 = clade
1 = Viverridae
2 = clade
1 = Hyaenidae
2 = clade
1 = Herpestidae
2 = Eupleridae

External References

1. Taxonomic references extant species (a); supporting descriptive information and pictures: [http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/classification/Feliformia.html#Feliformia|Animal Diversity Web (online) - Feliformia] .

2. Taxonomic references extant species (b): ITIS [http://www.itis.gov Integrated Taxonomic Information System]

3. Fossil record data (with taxonomic references) extant and extinct species: [http://paleodb.org The Paleaobiology Database]

4. Supporting taxonomic references extant and extinct species: [http://www.taxonomy.nl/Main/Classification/103312.htm Systema Naturae 2000 / Classification - Suborder Feliformia]

5. Gina D. Wesley-Hunt and John J. Flynn 2005: [http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=285902 Phylogeny of The Carnivora]

6a. Anne D. Yoder and John J. Flynn 2003: [http://research.yale.edu/yoderlab/pdfs/ipYoderFlynnNHMad.pdf Origin of Malagasy Carnivora]

6b. Yoder, A., M. Burns, S. Zehr, T. Delefosse, G. Veron, S. Goodman, J. Flynn. 2003: [http://www.biology.duke.edu/yoderlab/pdfs/2003YoderBurnsNature.pdf|Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor – Letters to Nature]

7. Philippe Gaubert, W. Chris Wozencraft, Pedro Cordeiro-Estrela and Géraldine Veron. 2005 - Mosaics of Convergences and Noise in Morphological Phylogenies: What's in a Viverrid-Like Carnivoran?

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