The King of Carnivores
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- know the characteristics and niche of the fossa.
- understand the adaptations of the fossa that make it a successful
- describe and compare the fossa to several different carnivores that have
adapted to hunt successfully in very different environments.
- specify the mouth structures of several carnivores and understand their
Related National Standards
National Science Education Standards (National Research Council)
- Grades 5-8
Science Standard C: Life Science
Diversity and adaptations of organisms
Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed
through gradual processes over many generations. Species acquire many of their
unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the
selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological
adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that
enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.
- Grades 9-12
Science Standard C: Life Science
Species evolve over time. Evolution is the consequence of the
interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2)
the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of
genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the
ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive
and leave offspring.
Materials needed for each group
- copy of the Carnivore Kings activity sheet for each student
- access to library and Internet for reference materials
- soft molding clay
Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
The activity should take two class periods: one period for the students to do
the research and make the model of their animal's teeth and a second period for
The fossa (pronounced "FOO-sa"), scientific name Cryptoprocta ferox, is
found only on Madagascar and is the largest mammalian carnivore there. It lives
in forests and has been referred to as the most efficient killer for its size
in the animal kingdom.
The fossa is like a mix between a mongoose and a panther. Its many adaptations
make it the island's dominant mammalian carnivore. While chasing its prey, the
fossa can charge like a panther and quickly follow its prey up trees, jumping
from tree to tree like a monkey. The fossa has large paws and an extremely
muscular, agile body that allows for endurance in the hunt for food. Its long
and sharp teeth facilitate the tearing of flesh. It also has a keen sense of
smell and sight to detect its prey. Lemurs, reptiles, birds, and insects make
up its diet.
The male fossa may reach five feet from its nose to its tail (the tail
comprises about half its length) and weigh up to 45 pounds. The female is
smaller. There are two to four offspring in a litter, which are born in a den
or tree hole. Weaned at four months, the infants stay with their mothers to
learn to hunt. They become independent at two years or less.
- Organize the class into six groups and give each group a copy of the
Carnivore Kings activity sheet.
- Assign each group one of the following carnivores listed on the sheet:
- killer whale
- Have each group research the animal and complete the information requested
in the chart. Be sure that students not only describe the features of the
animal but also have them explain how each feature allows the animal to best
compete in its environment. The group should include a description of the
- Have students use the soft clay to create a model of the animal's mouth
(teeth or beak) and use it in their verbal presentations to show how the mouth
structure and shape are especially adapted for its attacking its prey.
- Reconvene the class and have each group present its analysis of its animal's
adaptations and the mouth model. The rest of the class should take notes during
their peers' presentations so that at the end of the exercise every student has
a completed chart of information for each of the six carnivores.
Students may be assessed through:
- their participation in the activity.
- the level of detail and accuracy in their activity sheets.
- the depth and breadth of detail, organization, and clarity of their
- the quality of their clay models.
- Write a paper about the adaptations of mankind that made humans
successful in cave-dwelling times. How have humans changed since then? What
adaptations are selected for today, or is natural selection something that does
not occur among the human population anymore? For example, 100 years ago people
with asthma often did not reach reproductive age. Today with modern medicine
there is no natural selection against this disease in industrialized societies.
What are the implications for future generations?
- Pick a domestic animal and list its adaptations. Have students think
about animals from different kinds of environments, such as birds, fish,
turtles, and hamsters.
- Design a carnivore that could be successful in a mountainous desert at
high altitude. Divide students into groups and have them consider the
conditions in that kind of environment: There is little water, the days are hot
and the nights are cold, and there is little vegetation. What special
adaptations would the animal have that would allow it to survive in this
environment (body features, senses, behaviors, etc.). Describe the adaptations
and how they would be beneficial to the animal.
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