Tasmanian Devil The Largest Carnivorous Marsupial Alive Today
The Tasmanian Devil is the world's largest carnivorous (meat-eating) marsupial. Surviving only in the small island of Tasmania off the southern coast of Australia, It is listed as endangered and near extinct.
About the size of a small dog, the Tasmanian devil is known by this unflattering name because of its unearthly screams, eerie growls, dark black colour, foul odour, bad temper and aggressive behaviour.
The Tasmanian Devil is about the size of a small dog. It is a stocky muscular little animal about 60cm from head to tail and 30cm tall at its shoulders. It weigh up to 12 kilograms. The Tasmanian Devil's body is covered with black fur, except for a prominent white streak of fur on its chest and sometimes some white markings on its rump. It has a large head with a short muzzle with long whiskers and extremely powerful jaws for an animal of its size. Its front legs are longer than its rear legs. It has a short thick tail in which its stores its body fat for use as a reserve during hard times. the adult male is usually larger than the adult female. They live to about five years of age.
The Tasmanian Devil is closely related to the Quoll, the only other carnivorous marsupial alive in Australia today.
Scientific name - Sarcophilus harrisi (From the Latin names "sarco" meaning flesh and "philus" meaning creature/animal attached to. So Sarcophilus means a creature that likes flesh or meat. Harrisi is the latinised rendition of "Harris" the surname of the first person to formally identify and catalogue the Tasmanian devil.
Coming out mostly at night its frightful sounds must have sounded to the early European settlers as though they were the sounds of the devil himself. The settlers referred to this small boisterous creature as 'Beelzebub's pup'. Beelzebub being a biblical name for the devil. The word "Beelzebub" was too hard for most people to pronounce and even fewer people knew what it meant, so the name evolved into Native Devil and finally to the Tasmanian Devil.
The Tasmanian Devil is one of the most vocal marsupials. It screeches, growls, screams and generally scares its opponents with its loud aggressive sounds.
The Tasmanian Devil is only found on the island of Tasmania, off the southern coast of the Australian mainland. They are found in the forests and woodlands throughout the island. Since the arrival of large European settlements they are now also found close to farms where they attack livestock such as chickens and near main roads where the scavenge on road-kills.
Fossil evidence suggests that the Tasmanian Devil once lived on mainland Australia but became extinct there about 400 years ago. Two theories have been put forward for its extinction on the mainland. The first is that the climate became too dry for them. The second is that the introduced Asian dog, the dingo, out-competed the smaller Tasmanian Devil for food and led to its extinction (Dingos could not cross the sea between the mainland and Tasmania, thus the devils on Tasmania were spared).
The Tasmanian Devil is a nocturnal feeder which forages for food alone. It is scavenger, preferring to feed on the bodies of dead animals rather than actually catching its own prey. It is however capable of hunting down animals as large as a small kangaroo.
The Tasmanian Devil's diet is varied and may include wombats (which they love eating because of their high fat content) and other small mammals, birds, fish, insects, frogs and reptiles. In farm areas it also feed on the carcasses of dead, sheep, cattle and chickens. Typically a Tasmanian Devils will consume about 15% of body weight in food each day. But being an opportunistic predator it will also gorge itself when there is abundant food consuming up to 40% of its body weight in these instances. Its powerful jaws and teeth enable it to chew through the toughest skin and bone. It consumes all parts of a carcass including, skin, and most bone and fur.
It is very common, to see a number of these animals quickly congregating around a food source. When a group of devils feed together they emit terrible spine-chilling screams and screeches as they aggressive devour the carcass. These sounds can sometimes be heard from up to two kilometres away.
When was it First Detected?
The Tasmanian Devil Facile Tumour Disease (DFTD) is a contagious, transmittable cancer first detected in wild Tasmanian Devils in 1996. Since then it has devastated vast numbers of these animals, bringing them to the brink of extinction.
How did it Start?
Recent research suggests that this hitherto unknown disease first originated in a single cancerous cell of a single female Tasmanian Devil (known as patient zero) sometime around 1996. Since then it has spread rapidly through the wild population killing nearly 80% of the Tasmanians Devils.
Tasmanian Devils' Low Generic Diversity
Scientists suggest that one reason that the DFTD has spread so wildly amongst the Tasmanian Devil population is that the animals have a very low generic diversity. That is to say that there is very little difference between the genes of one animal and another. This means that there is less chance of animals which could have resistance to the tumour. This low genetic density is because the Tasmanian Devil has been isolated on the island of Tasmania for a very long period of time.
How is the Disease Transmitted?
Tasmanian Devils have a tendency to bite and nip each other on the face and neck during feeding and mating creating puncture wounds. It is believed that the virus is transmitted from one devil to another in this manner.
What Happens once Infected?
Once infected the animal quickly grows huge hideous looking tumours on its face and jaw which prevents it from eating. The poor creature either starves to death, because it can't eat or dies from organ failure once the cancer metastasises. The typical survival rate, once infected, is less than six months.
Are Other Animals Affected?
Only Tasmanian Devils are susceptible to this disease. The disease has not been detected in any other animals.
What's being done to Save the Tasmanian Devil?
At present there is no cure or vaccine to prevent the disease. In order to prevent the animal from becoming extinct, approximately 500 healthy devils have been moved to nineteen zoos and wildlife parks on the Australian mainland and two zoos overseas. It is hoped that this will help save the Tasmanian Devil from extinction.
A recent survey of Tasmanian devils found encouraging signs that some of these animals are actually fighting off the the facial tumour disease and recovering from it. Scientists believe that the animals produce chemicals called cytokines which help them defeat the tumours.
Tasmanian Devil Conservation Status
The Tasmanian devil, found only on the island of Tasmania today, has seen a drastic decline in its population. In the mid 1990's the population was estimated at around 150,000 animals by 2016 this number had declined to about 35,000.
The major cause of their decline is the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease (TDFTD) which has wiped out large numbers of them. Other causes for their decline are being hit by motor vehicles (road kill) and being killed by humans - which is strictly illegal.
Taz the Tasmanian Devil is a character in Warner Bros Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.
Originally appearing in 1964 it gained much popularity in the 1990s. The character is depicted as a ferocious creature with a terrible short temper that grunts and growls and eats through everything.
Taz bears no physical resemblance to a true Tasmanian Devil. The only similarities may be its appetite and some of the sounds it makes.
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