Characterization of the epitaxial defect known as the carrot defect was performed in thick 4H-SiC epilayers. A large number of carrot defects have been studied using different experimental techniques such as Nomarski optical microscopy, KOH etching, cathodoluminescence and synchrotron white beam X-ray topography. This has revealed that carrot defects appear in many different shapes and structures in the epilayers. Our results support the previous assignment of the carrot defect as related to a prismatic stacking fault. However, we have observed carrot defects with and without a visible threading dislocation related etch pit in the head region, after KOH etching. Polishing of epilayers in a few μm steps in combination with etching in molten KOH and imaging using Nomarski optical microscope has been used to find the geometry and origin of the carrot defects in different epilayers. The defects were found to originate both at the epi-substrate interface and during the epitaxial growth. Different sources of the carrot defect have been observed at the epi-substrate interface, which result in different structures and surfaces appearance of the defect in the epilayer. Furthermore, termination of the carrot defect inside the epilayer and the influence of substrate surface damage and growth conditions on the density of carrot defects are studied. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.