Scientific name: Canidae

Picture of a grey wolf, a species of canid.
Grey wolves belong to the canids, a group of carnivores. Photo © Ben Queenborough / Getty Images.

Canids (Canidae) are a group of carnivores that includes dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals. Canids are medium-sized carnivores. They have long legs, a deep chest cavity, and a long skull and snout. Canids usually have five digits on their front feet and four digits on their hind feet, although members of the Lycaoon have just four digits on their front feet. Canids are well adapted for running and can pursue prey over long distances.

They do not feed exclusively on the prey they hunt but also feed on carrion and plant matter.

Canids are amoung the oldest of all carnivores, fossil records of canids date back to the Oligocene and Miocene. Canids are thought to have diverged from the caniform lineage.

Many species of canids form social groups called packs, within which social rank is established in a hierarchy. Many species of canids are territorial and will drive out other individuals to protect the range and the resources within it. Some canids live in small family groups.

Adult female canids give birth to young once a year. Litter sizes vary and can range from one to more than a dozen pups. The pups are kept in a den for the first few weeks of their life. Young canids can take up to a year to reach maturity.

Excluding the domestic dogs, the smallest living canid is the fennec and the largest living canid is the gray wolf.

Canids inhabit every continent except Antarctica. They inhabit a wide variety of terrestrial haibtats includeing forests, deserts, mountains, and tundra. Canids are mostly flesh-eaters, though they are more omnivorous than some other carnivores, feeding on plant matter and carion occasionally. They feed on a variety of prey species including small mammals such as rodents and lagamorphs and medium-sized mammals such as deer.

Canids also sometimes feed on carion.

Some species of canids are viewed as pests by humans and for this reason they have been hunted relentlessly. Of the most persecuted groups of canids are coyotes and wolves. The domestic dog was domesticated several thousand years ago and has provided humans with many benefits including protection, companionship, and work.

Species Diversity

Approximately 34 species


Canids are classified within the following taxonomic hierarchy:

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Carnivores > Canids

Canids are divided into the following taxonomic groups:

  • True dogs (Canini) - Members of this group include gray wolves, domestic dogs, dingos, red wolves, coyotes, African golden wolves, golden jackals, Ethiopian jackals, side-striped jackals, black-backed jackals, African wild dogs, short-eared dogs, crab-eating foxes, Falklands wolves, culpeo, Darwin's foxes, hoary foxes, maned wolves, dholes, and many others.
  • True foxes (Vulpini) - Members of this group include Arctic fox, red fox, swift fox, kit fox, Corsac fox, Cape fox, pale fox, Bengal fox, Fennec fox, island fox, gray fox, Cozumel fox, and many others.
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Your Citation
Klappenbach, Laura. "Canids." ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2016, Klappenbach, Laura. (2016, February 23). Canids. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "Canids." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 15, 2017).