Tasmanian devils are marsupials found only in Tasmania, an island off the South coast of Australia. Tasmanian devils were once plentiful in Mainland Australia, but it's not clear when they were wiped out. Hunting by aboriginals may have been a significant factor, but the main cause is said to be Australia's wild dogs, dingos, whose absence on Tasmania is believed to have helped the devil to proliferate on the isolated (ecologically) island.
Taz The Tasmanian DevilThe most famous member of this species doesn't actually exist. 'Taz', the Tasmanian devil in the Warner Bros. cartoons, is a famous Tasmanian devil, and is actually a quite accurate representation of the real devil's fierce temper, hunger, and overall temperament.
The Tasmanian devil's scientific name is Sarcophilus harrisii. The name literally means "Harris' meat-lover", and refers to the animal's discoverer and behavior. The animal was first described by naturalist George Harris, and feeds on carrion and prey.
►► Physical Description
➔ Tasmanian devils grow up to 2.5 feet long, and weigh 12-18 lb. Females are generally smaller than males, and measure up to 2 feet.
➔ Tasmanian devils live up to 6 years in the wild, and up to 10 in captivity.
➔ They have black fur interspersed with white patches on their heads, necks, or even tails. Their appearance can be likened to a baby bear.
➔ Their front legs are longer than the hind ones, giving them a peculiar lumbering gait.
➔ Their heads are relatively large, and house their primary weapon - their razor-sharp teeth.
➔ They are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world.
➔ They have the strongest bite force relative to body size in the world. Their terrifying teeth and strong jaws are responsible for their name. European settlers could not have settled for a more apt name, given the devil's teeth, temper, and loud screech.
►► Hunting And Feeding
➔ Tasmanian devils hunt mainly by smell and hearing. Their vision is not poor, but is more suited to detecting motion than noticing small changes in a static landscape.
➔ They feed primarily on carrion, but are strong and vicious enough to take prey as large as small kangaroos! Their main prey items are wombats, wallabies and pademelons. Their hunger is so all-consuming that adults may eat young devils if the conditions arise.
➔ Tasmanian devils are very noisy eaters, but are not at all fussy eaters. They can eat practically any food they encounter. Though the main prey items are the ones mentioned above, they also feed on opossums, birds, bird eggs, and insects, and any dead body they come across. They devour their food to the bone, leaving nothing in their wake - another similarity to the cartoon character.
➔ Like many marsupials, Tasmanian devils store fat in their tails as an emergency reserve.
➔ Tasmanian devils are almost exclusively nocturnal and crepuscular. It is thought that the nocturnal behavior wasn't the preferred strategy, but is an adaptation in order to cope from attacks from predators such as eagles or humans.
➔ Devils can climb trees, the young ones being better at it than the adults. Adult devils can climb up to 3 meters.
➔ Devils can swim, and may even enjoy it for its own sake.
►► Reproduction and Life Cycle
➔ Tasmanian devils become sexually mature at around two years of age.
➔ Tasmanian devils are marsupials, a class of animals defined by their unique way of giving birth. Female Tasmanian devils are pregnant for around 3 weeks, and give birth to 20-30 joeys.
➔ The premature joeys then move to the female's pouch. Though there can be more than 30 joeys, the pouch only contains 4 teats.
➔ Young Tasmanian devils are also called pups or imps.
➔ More than half the newborns don't survive the first few weeks. Females have been observed to be more likely to survive than males.
➔ The breeding season of Tasmanian devils coincides with the arrival of spring, beginning in March and carrying on into April.
➔ Devils are at their most aggressive during the mating season. Males viciously fight over females, and guard their females fiercely. Tasmanian devils are not monogamous by design, so the male's careful watch is necessary if he is to keep the female from mating with other males.
Though hunted and driven to extinction in the earlier century, the devil's numbers increased due to efforts of the Australian Government initiatives and programs. But now, the devil has another enemy, the devil facial tumor disease. The first death of a devil from this disease was reported in 1996, and has spread so quickly, that it has wiped out nearly 50% of the devil population from Tasmania. This is a rare transmissible form of cancer and transmits from one animal to another, usually through biting, and occurs in the face, head and neck. There is no cure found for this devil facial tumor disease. Since there is little genetic diversity among Tasmanian devils, the spread of this disease is very easy. Isolating the sick animals from the healthy ones is being done to save this ferocious carnivorous marsupial from a painful extinction.
The Tasmanian devil has become one of the symbols for Australia and particularly Tasmania. Hopefully with human help, these ferocious beasts will survive to roam the forests of their island home for a long time to come.