Conservation Status– Endangered
The Tasmanian devil is the largest living carnivorous marsupial. Tasmanian devils have black hair covering most of their body. Most devils have a white patch across their chest. 16% of wild devils do not have this patch though. It is believed that this patch draws other devils to attack that area so they do not go for vital areas. The nose is black with the rest of the muzzle being a dark purple colour.
On the forefeet they have five toes while the hind feet have four. There claws are non-retractable. Their tail makes up half of their body length at 25.8cm (10.2in) in males and 24.4cm (9.6in) for females. A healthy devil will have a fat tail as this is where they store fat.
From the start of the head to the base of the tail an average male devil measures 65.2cm (25.7in) while females are smaller at 57cm (22in). An average weight for a male is 8kg (18lb) while for a female it is 6kg (13lb).
In the wild Tasmanian devils will rarely make it past 5 years old. When in captivity they can make it to 8 years of age.
Tasmanian devils are carnivores. Most of their diet is made up of carrion. They feed upon whatever is available. Their hunting abilities are also brilliant and they can hunt prey up to the size of a kangaroo. Wombat is a preferred food as it is easy to catch due to its slow speed and high in fat. Foods including farm animals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and sea creatures have all been found to be consumed by the Tasmanian Devil.
When eating they consume everything including the bones and fur. They will eat food no matter how old it is. When eating they take in as much food as possible in each feed. By eating all of the old food they reduce the amount of flies and other pests in the area.
Tasmania is the only place where Tasmanian Devils can be found in the wild.
They live in the rainforests, coastal heath forests, and most other areas apart from those where there is significant deforestation and habitat fragmentation. In these areas they make a den in hollow logs, caves and burrows.
In the breeding season a number of males will fight over a female. A female will mate with the dominant devil in the area at the time she is ready. She may mate with numerous males as this changes. The males will also move on to find another female.
Gestation lasts just 21 days. After this up to 20 young known as joeys, imps or pups will be born. These climb up the mothers stomach and into the backward facing pouch. As she only has four teats only four can survive. They attach to a teat and stay there the next 100 days.
At birth the imps are pink, the ears are closed over and their eyes are a little spot.
The eyelids become visible after 16 days followed by the whiskers at 17 days and then the lips at 20 days. After 8 weeks they make little squeaks for the first time though the lips cannot open till their 10th-11th week of age. After three months the eyes will begin to open. After 105 days they will stop being constantly attached to the teat.
After 105 days they are evicted from the pouch into the den. At this point they move into the den for another three months. Once they are ready to leave the den they travel on the moms back. They lose their dependence on milk at about 6 months old.
Almost 3/5 of the devils do not live to adulthood. Those that do will achieve independence at 9 months of age.
In the past sexual maturity was reached at 2 years old. Now though due to Devil Facial Tumour Disease they have begun breeding at 1 year old.
Tasmanian devils follow either a crepuscular or nocturnal activity pattern. This is a mechanism to help escape humans and eagles. Young devils are more active during the day leading some people to believe the population increases exponentially at the end of the breeding season.
A number of expressions, smells and vocalisation are used by the devil to show its emotions. When their mouth is wide open they are showing fear and uncertainty. A foul odour is given off when they are stressed. Fierce snarls and high pitched screams help to establish dominance. A strong sneeze is used to bluff another devil so they won’t start a fight.
Devils can swim and climb trees. They have been seen getting across 50m (160ft) wide rivers which are quite cold.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease
This disease which first appeared in 1996 is one of only two contagious cancers in the world. It shows itself as lumps across the face.
Most infected devils die within 12 months. This means that instead of reproducing three times in their life most devils now only reproduce once. Some one year old devils have also been found infected which may mean some never breed.
In captivity there are now over 500 devils which form an insurance population that can be released into the wild if Tasmanian devils go extinct in the wild.
During 2012 devils were released onto Maria Island to establish a new population of disease free devils. The next year they were joined by more devils. In their first year all the females breed and the population is going strong giving hope for the future of this species.
Some people describe Tasmanian devils as the vacuums of the forest as they eat all the left overs. Another name they receive due to their scavenging habits is the Australian hyena.
The genus name of the Tasmanian devil, “Sarcophilus” means meat loving. It comes from the greek words for flesh and loving, “sarkos” and “philos.”
The genus name “harrisii comes from George Harris who first described the Tasmanian devil for science journals in 1808.
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