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Fur

Fur is important in thermoregulation, but a conspicuous coat may proclaim sexual dominance or warn off competitors. It's similarly important for predators to remain unseen for as long as possible. The most familiar type of camouflage is the colour of the hunter merging into the background environment colour – think about stoat in winter (ermine), polar bears against the ice of the Arctic and lions against the baked soil and dried grass of Africa. But equally important is the patterned fur o
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Claws

Claws are important for grabbing prey. They must be kept sharp and trees (or chair legs, as domestic cat owners can confirm) are used as scratching posts. In all cats other than the cheetah, the claws can be retracted into a sheath within the footpad, preventing rapid wear.


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3.1 Speed and endurance

The first question in this section is a mathematical one, in which you are asked to convert from one set of units to another. If you have been following the advice in previous units in this series, you will be reading km h−1 as kilometres per hour and you will probably already think of m.p.h. as mi
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2.1 Introducing the Carnivora

Table 1 in this section lists the scientific names of the families of the Carnivora, as well as their common names. You are not expected to recall
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1 The hunters

As you work through this unit you will come across boxes, like this one, which give you advice about the study skills that you will be developing as you progress through the unit. To avoid breaking up the flow of the text, they will usually appear at the start or end of the sections.

As well as the un
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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;

  • <
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Introduction

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 in
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10 Living in herds

Wildebeest are only one of the species of plant predator that live in herds. Many others do too.

Activity 7

Watch the the TV programme from 30.48–47.32 and read LoM p. 109. Identify and write down (a) a couple of advantages and
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9 Wildebeest migration

The skill of thinking in a scientific way is as much a part of being a scientist as is knowing facts – perhaps more so. In this series of units, you'll not only come across facts about particular techniques, such as radio transmitters and bat detectors, but also the tactics that scientists use to inves
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2 The herbivore lifestyle – living on leaves

Leaves are a much less nutritious food than most kinds of animal material, so large herbivores have to eat large quantities of plants and they have special ways to digest their food. As author David Attenborough (DA) says, ‘Leaves are extremely poor food’ [p. 89]. To find out why living on a diet of leaves is particularly difficult, we need to know something about how leaves work.


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Introduction

The plant predators, or herbivores, are a varied group, but they share certain characteristics. Many of them are large; among the smallest is the chevrotain (or mouse-deer) at about two kilograms weight, and the elephant is the largest, with a typical bull male weighing around six tonnes. In this unit we'll be looking in more detail at some of the problems and consequences of adopting a plant-eating way of life. Leaves are a much less nutritious food than most kinds of animal material, so lar
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Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions). This content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Licence

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:

The content acknowledged be
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6 Reflection

If you are working through all the units in this series, you'll be aware that this unit has taken a somewhat different tack from earlier ones. I've used rodents to explore some fundamental biological principles that have a relevance far beyond this particular order. It is especially appropriate to talk about issues such as biological success in connection with rodents, given their very wide geographical distribution and the very large number of rodent species and individuals. You'll recall (f
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5.1 Monogamy and polygamy

You've seen plenty of evidence that reproduction in rodents – more precisely what I've called their reproductive strategies – are versatile and varied. You'll appreciate that ‘versatile and varied’ describes the range of sexual habits seen in the rodents as a group, not the behaviour within a single species. As DA says, some are monogamous, which means that individuals mate exclusively with one partner, over at least a single breeding cycle or season. The marmots are an example of a g
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4.2 Altruism

How is it possible then to sustain groups in which some individuals are prevented from breeding? They would have no lifetime reproductive success, none of their characteristics could be passed on to offspring.

Name two of the species in LoM that had
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4.1 A measure of success

If what I have highlighted so far were the whole story, the only adaptive features shown would be those that equipped the rodent for times of famine, which is patently not the case. It is obviously a very important factor in the production of new species because the most productive of rodents (rats and mice) account for about 1300 of the 2000 or so rodent species, following the figures given in the TV programme. In LoM you have seen many interesting characteristics to which adaptive functions
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3.6 The numbers game … or the struggle for existence

In the majority of The Life of Mammals TV sequences there is relatively little evidence of any struggle for existence, apart from the occasional predator/prey interaction. Even then you are offered the comforting reassurance that ‘four out of five chases end with the prey escaping’. So you could be forgiven for thinking that most mammals survive to a ripe old age, or at least until, like the topi, they have fulfilled their reproductive potential. Not so! Four out of five chases may
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3.5 Natural selection

Darwin summarised his theory of natural selection in the introduction to The Origin of Species as follows:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life
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3.4 Competition

In plants it is particularly obvious that many more potential offspring (seeds) are produced than can survive. To a very large extent it is a matter of chance as to which are the survivors. Some are eaten, others overlooked or stored away and forgotten. Those that survive to germinate might be on unsuitable soil, too dry or too wet, so that they shrivel or rot. The successful seedling could be in poor soil, deficient in minerals, or there may be many other plants that are already established
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2.2 Cracking nuts and other ways of eating

This section returns to the arrangement of teeth in the jaws of various mammals and uses the same representation for the dental formula as used in S182_2 Studying mammals: the insect hunters. You are not expected to remember the dental formulae of the various mammals.

We can tell
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