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 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 six years of age.
The Tasmanian devil is closely related to the Quoll, the only other carnivorous marsupial alive in Australia today.
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. Tasmanian devils make their lairs in hollow logs, caves and the disused burrows of other animal.
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 (Dingoes could not cross the sea between the mainland and Tasmania, thus the devils on Tasmania were spared).
The Tasmanian devil is a nocturnal carnivorous marsupial that 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 such as wallabies, 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 the only Australian animal capable of defeating the spiny defences of the echidna which it consumes spikes and all.
The Tasmanian devil is very easy to detect, as 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 up to two kilometres away.
Tasmanian devils become sexually mature at the age of two years. Females average four breeding seasons in their lifetime and can produce about 12 viable offspring in that time. Males can produce up to 16 offspring over their lifetime. Tasmanian devils mate during the months of March and April. The males fight boisterously and ferociously with each other for the right to mate with a female. The female will mate with the most dominate male. Tasmanian devils are polygamous, with both the male and female mating with more than one partner during the mating season. A male will attempt to guard partner to prevent female infidelity.
After a gestation period of 21 days, the female Tasmanian devil gives birth to 20 to 30 babies. The babies, each weighing between 0.18 to 0.24 grams, are the size of a grain of rice. They are pink in colour, deaf and blind. But as is the case with most marsupials they have relatively well developed front limbs (and no back ones), and an excellent sense of smell and direction to navigate a perilous journey to its mother’s backward facing pouch. They do this by laboriously crawling through their mother’s fur to her pouch.
Even though the female has a large litter of up to 20-30 babies, she has only 4 nipples in her pouch, so competition is fierce, as the little neophytes race a distance of about 7.6 cm from the birth canal to the mother’s rear-facing pouch and latch on to an available nipple. Once a neophyte suckles on a nipple, the tip of the nipples engorges, expands to fit tightly like a plug, inside the baby’s mouth. This ensured that the successful neophyte can’t be dislodged by a competing sibling or that it won’t get knocked out of its mother’s pouch. The unsuccessful neophytes soon die and fall away from the pouch. It is clear example of a case of the survival of the fittest.
The babies that successfully latched on to nipples remain inside their mother’s pouch for 4 months after which they are ejected from the pouch. They are still nursed by her and remain in the safety of their mother's den. Towards the later stages they may accompany their mother when she goes hunting often clambering onto her back for a free ride and a first-hand look at the world. When they are about 9 months old their mother abandons them.
The Tasmanian devil is one of the most vocal marsupials. It screeches, growls, screams and generally scares its opponents with its loud aggressive sounds.
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.
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.
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. It is believed that the virus is transmitted from one devil to another when these animals bite and nip each other on the face and neck during feeding and mating. Once infected an animal quickly grows huge hideous looking tumours on its face and jaw which prevents it from eating. The infected animal then 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.
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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