The Tasmanian Devil, (Sarcophilus harrisii), is the largest carnivorous (meat eating) marsupial in the world. A small animal with a stocky and muscular build, they reach an average 30 inches in length, and can weigh up to 12 kilograms. Their fur is black, with white patches at both the throat and rump, and in the wild are generally very solitary, coming together only to feed and mate. Tasmanian Devils can be quite active during the day, but are nocturnal hunters, and were named by European explorers for their ferocious behaviour while eating and mating, and also for the hideous, loud screeching noises they make… many a camper has been scared stiff when hearing their spine-chilling screeches in the hours of darkness. Though mainly a scavenger, in the wild the devil’s prey consists of fish, snakes, birds, insects and small animals.
Living 7–8 years in the wild, devils were once high in numbers across the entire continent of Australia, but today are found only in Tasmania living naturally in the wild, their numbers largest in coastal scrubland and forests. Trapped, shot and poisoned for almost a century to near extinction from the 1800s, farmers blamed them for killing livestock and valuable fur stocks. In 1830 the Van Diemen’s Land Company put up a reward for every devil killed on their property. The reward was two shillings and sixpence (25 cents) for a male devil and three shillings and sixpence (35 cents) for a female, but the devil population gradually increased again after they were protected by law in June 1941.
Today, due to much publicity, the general population know much about our iconic little devil, so now for…
Ten Tasmanian Devil Facts You May Not Know
Tasmanian Devil Facts #1
Tasmanian Devil Facts #2
Our researchers tell us that the Tasmanian Devil’s large head and neck allow it to generate one of the strongest bites per unit body mass of any land predator…540 kilograms per square inch… and their jaws are strong enough to gnaw through metal traps.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #3
Using their strong sense of sight and smell, the prey of the Tasmanian Devil only reaches the size of a small kangaroo. They are not fussy eaters, and will eat every part of the animal, bones, fur, intestines, the lot. Known to eat already dead animal carcasses, devils first rip out and eat the digestive system which is the softest part of the anatomy. They then often reside in the resulting cavity while they are eating.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #4
Like other marsupials, the tail of the Tasmanian Devil swells with stored fat, so that its body has something to draw on when food gets scarce. An unhealthy devil will have a skinny, limp tail.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #5
Devils can eat about 5 to 10 percent of their body weight in a day, they will eat more at a feast if really hungry. They have been known, if the opportunity arises, to eat up to 40 percent of their body weight in 30 minutes. An adult devil weighing 10kg will eat up to 1kg of food a day.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #6
The pouch is a distinguishing feature of female marsupials, the name marsupial is derived from the Latin marsupium, meaning ‘pouch’. The pouch is a fold of skin with a single opening that covers the nipples. Female devils have a ‘rear facing’ pouch, the opening being to the back of the mother to prevent it filling with dirt and debris as she digs. Female devils give birth after about three weeks of pregnancy to up to 50 very tiny young. They are relatively undeveloped, and are called joeys. When the joey is born it’s about the size of a pea, and must crawl from inside the mother to the pouch, but only a few of them survive because she only has four nipples.
Inside the pouch, the blind offspring attaches itself to one of the mother’s nipples and remains attached for as long as it takes to grow and develop into a young replica of the parents. Sometimes four pouch young will survive, but the average number is two or three. Each joey, firmly attached to a teat, is carried in the pouch for about four months, after which time the young start venturing out of the pouch, and are then left in a simple den, often just a hollow log. Young are completely weaned at five to six months of age, and on their own by eight months of age.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #7
Despite their small appearance, the devil is capable of great feats of strength, climbing trees and swimming across rivers. Devils cannot run at high speeds when chasing prey, but they are adept distance runners, they can run at about 24 kilometres per hour for an hour straight.
Tasmanian Devil Facts # 8
Tasmanian Devils are NOT dangerous to people… they DO NOT attack people, but they will defend themselves if they are attacked or trapped. They have very powerful jaws, when they do bite will cause serious injury. Tasmanian Devils may look fierce, but they will run before they will fight.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #9
When a Tasmanian Devil feels very threatened, or in times of stress, they will release a nasty, foul smelling odour and will use a sharp sneeze when challenging other devils to a fight.
Tasmanian Devil Facts #10
An American, Robert Porter “Bob” McKimson, Sr. (1910-1977) gave the Tasmanian Devil world wide fame. McKimson, an animator, illustrator and director for Warner Brothers, based his ‘Looney Tunes’ character Taz on the real-life carnivorous nature and voracious appetite of the Tasmanian Devil.
Tasmanian Devil Facts… Species in Danger
The Tasmanian Devil is today classified as an endangered species, protected since 1941, and now their population is once again rapidly decreasing, mainly due to devil facial tumour disease. A fatal infectious cancer, it causes large ulcerous lumps to form around the devil’s face and mouth, gradually making it extremely painful and impossible for the devil to eat. Due to this disease, the Australian Government has listed the species as vulnerable. Scientists are working hard to find a cure and the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program is working to save them from extinction.
The second largest threat to our devils are road vehicles, being small and dark the devils are difficult to see on roads whilst they are out feeding at night. If travelling rural and forested roads at night, please be aware Tasmanian Devils may be on the roads, slow down and take care.
All photos strictly © Carol Haberle (H&H Photography);
Dan Fellow (Tasmanian Photos) or otherwise as indicated.
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Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian.
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