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Devils of Tasmania

Updated on January 9, 2017

Devils Are Endangered

Just about everyone has heard about the Tasmanian Devil, one of Australia's most well known animals. What may not be generally known is that the devil is now an endangered species, due to a contagious cancer which is becoming widespread. This disease is known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease. (Note: I am Australian, and Tumour is our correct spelling.)

Many zoos are keeping disease free animals, so that wild stocks can be replaced when a cure is found.

Update: Have just heard that an improved vaccination is being trialled, and some captive bred and vaccinated devils will soon be released into the wild. The disease is still spreading around the state of Tasmania, and devils are endangered. Hopefully this vaccine will work, as we don't want to lose these fascinating animals.

Most images and videos in this article are my own. All rights reserved.

Tasmanian Devil with keeper, Gunns Plain Zoo, Tasmania.
Tasmanian Devil with keeper, Gunns Plain Zoo, Tasmania. | Source

Tasmanian Devilish Facts

The Latin name for the Tasmanian Devil is Sarcophilus harrisii. Devils are marsupials, and are also carnivores. They are usually nocturnal.

Marsupial means that the young of a species are born undeveloped, and must spend months in a pouch while developing further. Being a carnivore, devils eat only meat, usually birds, fish, snakes, and even insects. They will also eat carrion, such as roadkill.

Tasmanian devils grow to about 75 cm (31 inches) long, and can weigh up to 12 kilograms (25 lbs). This can vary, depending on the amount of food available. The devil has a disproportionately large head, and it's strong jaws and sharp teeth can give a very powerful bite.

Devils were named because of the sounds they made when feeding or fighting over food. The early settlers in Tasmania thought they sounded like devils! These little animals have very bad tempers, and will often fight over roadkill, squabbling for the best bits.

You can find out more about the sound the devil makes at this Tasmanian Parks web site.

Tasmanian Devil at Gunns Plain Zoo, Tasmania.
Tasmanian Devil at Gunns Plain Zoo, Tasmania. | Source
Tasmanian Devil With Facial Tumours
Tasmanian Devil With Facial Tumours | Source

About Devil Facial Tumour Disease

DFTD is spread when Tasmanian Devils bite each other, during fights, or when mating. They are quite a ferocious animal, so bites happen frequently.

This disease usually shows on the face or neck, where open wounds or swellings develop. The tumours grow, and can spread throughout the body.

DFTD generally affects adults, as they are the ones mating and fighting. Because it is often found around the mouth, the animals are unable to eat. Without nourishment, they become weaker, and are usually dead within four to six months. It must be agonisingly painful for the poor animals.

The Tasmanian Devil population has declined by at least 75% since 1990, and was originally found only in the North-East of the state. It has not affected all areas, strangely, as in some places, the Devils are not infected.

Scientists are working on a cure for DFTD, but this will take time, if it is even possible. The disease was unknown prior to the 1990s.

Zoos in Australia, and even overseas, are keeping groups of healthy animals to ensure the survival of this iconic Tasmanian species. Unfortunately, Gunns Plains Zoo, where some of the images on this lens were taken, is not included in the breeding program, as it's a private zoo, although they do have some very healthy Devils there, as you can see from my images.

Devils at the Zoo

Tasmanian Devils
Tasmanian Devils | Source

More Devilish Facts

Tasmanian Devils became extinct on mainland Australia approximately 400 years ago. Fossils have been found in many places.

When Europeans first arrived in Tasmania, devils were treated as a pest, because they frequently raided farms and chicken yards. A bounty was placed on their heads, along with Tasmanian tigers (now extinct) and they became quite rare for a while. In 1941, they became protected by law, and numbers have increased, until today, when they are threatened by DFTD.

Approximately 15% of devils have no white markings on their chests, and appear completely black.

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More Tasmanian Devils.
More Tasmanian Devils. | Source

Breeding Devils

Tasmanian Devils generally mate in early Autumn, March, and babies are born 21 days later. Only four young can fit in the pouch, on four available teats,, and the babies must make their own way there. If more than four young are born, the others will not survive. Usually only two or three young make it to adulthood.

After about sixteen weeks in the pouch, they young are sometimes left in a den, such as a hollow tree. They are weaned between five and six months. Usually, devil young are living on their own by December or January. A healthy devil can live for up to seven or eight years, although females may live for a shorter time.

Male devils can be extremely vicious in the mating season, and fights leave some animals with quite serious injuries. Since Devil Facial Tumour Disease began, it is often spread at this time. Males can breed with more than one female, usually at or after two years of age.

Female Tasmanian Devils can be somewhat choosy in the mate they select. They will often choose the strongest male they can find. This is discovered by mock fighting between the male and female, during which no injuries are received.

Up to twenty young may be born, but as above, only four will survive, as there are only four teats in the female's pouch. Survival of the fittest is nature's way, even though it may seem cruel.

With many zoos now breeding disease free populations of Tasmanian Devils, it seems that the survival of the species is assured.

Tasmanian Devils Feeding

These three devils are demolishing the leg of a prey animal, including skin and bone. Devils eat just about everything, as bone is no problem for their powerful jaws.

The video below was taken at Gunns Plains Zoo, Tasmania, by myself. The commentary is by a keeper.

Releasing Devils Onto The Mainland

There has recently been some talk about re-introducing healthy populations to the mainland. It has been suggested to the Victorian Government that they be released into the Wilsons Promontory National Park, where they will compete with feral foxes and cats. It is hoped that a natural predator such as the devil will help re-establish the ecological balance of native animals.

"The [Tasmanian] devil is a scavenger; it may take food from feral cats or foxes at certain times of the year that may limit their reproductive success, it may compete for nesting spaces and take their young.”.............Professor Tim Flannery

Wilsons Promontory park is in Victoria, the closest state to Tasmania, the devils' home. It has conditions that would be ideal for the release of these animals. This is called re-wilding, and has been done before. i.e. The wolves of Yellowstone in the USA.

Predators are seen as necessary, and releasing devils into Victoria would be a step in preventing their extinction, which could well happen in their home state. It is a step well worth considering.

Devil Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This little devil almost seems to be posing for the camera!
This little devil almost seems to be posing for the camera!
This little devil almost seems to be posing for the camera!

Your Devilish Comments

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    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Yes, they are cute because they're ugly. You can't help feeling sorry for the poor things though, with that awful disease decimating them. Thanks for visiting.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      The poor guy with the tumors. The tasmanian devils are ugly and cute at the same time. Love reading about them.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thankyou Writer Fox - they are fascinating creatures, and I do hope we are able to save them from that terrible disease.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      What interesting animals! They do look like little devils. I enjoyed your great pictures; they add so much to the article. Voted up and interesting!

    • Heartily profile image

      Lucy Bieri 3 years ago from Switzerland

      I don't know much about Tasmanian Devils,You make a good job on educating us about them.. Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 3 years ago

      I've seen them at a zoo just once, it was probably about 25 years ago. I think it was either the San Francisco Zoo or the San Diego Zoo. I'm glad there are some of these animals kept away from the deadly disease.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @Lady Lorelei: We hope so, and they are keeping captive groups which are free of the disease as an anti-extinction measure.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      How very sad this new disease is in the populations of Tasmanian devils. Hopefully they will find the reason for this illness soon.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 4 years ago from Perth UK

      Hi Squidoo has told me to tell you that you are my 900th Squid like! They gave me 100 points for that. So I owe you a big thanks :)

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 4 years ago from Perth UK

      Wow I've learned so much about these great little creatures! Thanks.

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 4 years ago

      Nice job on education. Also, on a subject that is too often overlooked. The Taz and it's contribution to Australia

    • Meganhere profile image

      Meganhere 4 years ago

      I've been to Gunns Plains Private Zoo, where I was lucky enough to hold a young devil. They make such a mad noise! This disease is absolutely terrible.

    • Mommy-Bear profile image

      Mommy-Bear 4 years ago

      Great lens. Thanks for educating us.

    • combiplumb profile image

      combiplumb 4 years ago

      squidliked you, I hope that one day I can visit Oz and see these for real.

    • profile image

      Amanda_Revel 4 years ago

      Nice lens, I really enjoyed reading it. Theyn do look cute.

    • jen becht profile image

      jen becht 4 years ago

      They actually have a movie on it.

    • Gaby81 profile image

      Gaby81 4 years ago

      What an adorable animal. I think I never sow one neither in a zoo or a resource. Hope to see it one day. Thanks for sharing.

    • Elis173 profile image

      Elis173 4 years ago

      Great lens, i love Tasmanian devils

    • profile image

      BarbsSpot 4 years ago

      @Lensmaster...Watched a PBS program on the Devils. It was about some animal husbandry youngsters being trained in the care of Devils, and it discussed the Devils species' endangerment. Hope your Lens helps people to understand that we need to learn to give better care to all our animal friends!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great lens. Lots of things I didn't know about Tasmanian Devils.

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this info. They are so cute! This sounds like the same thing that the sea turtles get.

    • shewins profile image

      shewins 4 years ago

      I saw a documentary on TV about the Tazmanian Devils and that awful disease. This is a very enlightening article.

    • Splodgered profile image

      Splodgered 5 years ago

      I had only ever come across the tasmanian devil in the cartoon - used to love it. Thanks for sharing the info and particularly your brilliant photos

    • abakes98 lm profile image

      NobodyLoser 5 years ago

      I grew up on Taz and this might be the first time I've actually seen one. They aren't what I expected. Much more cuddly looking than I ever thought. Likewise, I was looking over your profile, after you responded on my lense, and I was totally surprised. Such a personality must be few and far between.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 5 years ago

      I have not seen this before! Thanks for introducing this animal to me :)

    • audrey07 profile image

      audrey07 5 years ago

      I have seen them before when I was in Australia. But that was years ago. I didn't know about the cancer, which is unfortunate. It must be agonizing for these animals if they contracted this dreadful disease which currently has no cure.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @audrey07: Yes, it certainly is agonizing, and they are unable to eat as it's usually around the mouth. Scientists are working on it, and we hope they are going to have a cure soon.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @Iftikhar-Hussain: Thankyou! That's our reason for writing - the hope someone will like our topic. Thanks for visiting.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @collegeoptional: They are fascinating little animals, aren't they? Thanks for your visit.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @johnsja: Thankyou. We really enjoyed Tasmania, and actually drove all around. Of course we didn't see it all - wasn't possible in a short trip, but it was beautiful. Thanks for your visit.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @Emma Vine: They look cute, but you wouldn't want to touch a wild one! They're savage..... Thanks for visiting.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      @Aunt-Mollie: So do I, and the scientists are working on it. We don't want to lose our devils!

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 5 years ago

      I never knew very much about this animal. Australia has unique wildlife, not found in any other country. I hope this specie can be preserved in its natural habitat.

    • Emma Vine profile image

      Emma Vine 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      OMG they are so cute!

    • profile image

      johnsja 5 years ago

      Great lens. I live in Tasmania and am very familiar with this animal and the disease. We have already lost our native Tasmanian tiger to extinction so it is good to see that the future of the devil is looking quite positive. I hope you enjoyed your time here and please come visit us again.

    • collegeoptional profile image

      collegeoptional 5 years ago

      Great topic. I remember watching a documentary about Tasmanian Devils when I was a kid.

    • Iftikhar-Hussain profile image

      Iftikhar-Hussain 5 years ago

      good lens .. I like it :)