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Tasmanian Devil

Updated on August 17, 2014

The Tasmanian devil is a fox-terrier sized animal of powerful build with a widely gaping mouth and strong teeth.

The muzzle is short and broad and the ears short and rounded. The head and body are about 28 inches (70 cm) and the tail about 12 inches (30 cm) long.

There are five toes on the forefeet and four on the hind feet each with a strong claw. The general body color is black but there is a white band across the chest and sometimes a white band across the rump.

The jaw gape of the Tasmanian devil is wide and the teeth are large and strong. As in other dasyurid marsupials there are four upper and three lower incisor teeth. The canine teeth are powerful and the premolars sharp and reduced to two in each jaw. The four molar teeth of the upper jaw bite only partly on the four lower molars, a powerful crushing action being obtained by the uppers sliding past to the outside of the lower molars.

Photo credit: Introduction photo taken by me. Not to be used without permission.

Tasmanian Devil Facts

Scientifically known as Sarcophilus harrisii, the Tasmanian devil is a savage little marsupial, sometimes described as looking like a cross between a cat and a bear. Its voice, which is an eerie, yelling, cough-like snarl, sounds rather like a cat fight and is thought to be the main reason for its name 'devil'.

It is now found only in Tasmania but fossil remains indicate that it once also lived on mainland Australia. Tasmania is, however, but a remnant of the former range of the animal. It occurred in the Northern Territory of Australia, at about 12°S latitude, 3,000 years ago, in various other parts of Australia at about the same time and during the Pleistocene epoch.

In Victoria, Australia, at about 38°S latitude, it was present five to seven hundred years ago.

Recent studies have shown it to be very abundant over at least some of its former range and it has been implicated in the killing of some domestic animals. Local eradication or control measures are sometimes undertaken.

The Tasmanian devil is a, usually, solitary, terrestrial, nocturnal, carnivore which feeds on mammals and birds, a variety of insects and invertebrate animals and on carrion. The litter size is up to four and the young are born in the autumn of each year.

The Tasmanian devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial known to be still in existence. The Tasmanian tiger, was larger but this animal is now thought to be extinct. The two animals once coexisted, with the devil eating the remains of the wolf's kill. However, the devil also does its own killing, preying on animals larger than itself, such as wallabies, as well as eating smaller mammals, lizards, birds, frogs and crayfish.

Tasmanian devils breed in March and April. The she-devil works at building a nest of bark, grass and leaves among the rocks or in a cave. The immature young are born in May and are carried in the mother's backward-opening pouch. Tasmanian devils have the reputation of being very fierce but some have been kept as pets and become very affectionate and playful. They are very clean animals and wash themselves in the same way that a cat does.

When the early settlers arrived in Tasmania, the devils were numerous and were hunted for meat.

Tassie Devils Move To Mainland

Photo by Pete 'Langy' Langshaw
Photo by Pete 'Langy' Langshaw

Photo by Pete 'Langy' Langshaw

In November last year Tasmanian devils were transported to the Barrington Tops by the Australian Reptile Park to start a breeding program because of the disease they are dying from in Tasmania.

Facial tumour disease is threatening the future of the devils so the reptile park will breed them for the 50 or so years it will take for the disease to vanish in Tasmania.

The disease has been in Tasmania since 1996.

It is a similar disease to cancer but 90 per cent of the time it appears on the face.

The disease appears as lumps and lesions that cause the devil to bleed and swell.

The lumps and lesions generally appear on the lips, in the mouth, in the eyes or up the nose.

The disease is spread by them biting one another when they are mating or fighting.

It is mainly spread to the adult devils, so it is important to take as many healthy devils as possible to stop the disease from spreading.

The devils aren't threatening any native flora or fauna while they are enclosed but if they escaped from their enclosed area they could threaten some plants and animals.

But they are well enclosed and cared for in their new home, getting kangaroo, chicken and rabbit four times a week.

"The devils that were released this January have settled in well and quickly to their new environment," Devil Ark operations manager Tim Faulkner said.

"More than half the females have young already. In December the joeys will be weaned from their mum and we'll know exactly how many young we have."


Tassie Devils Are Here


Scone Public School

Feature in the Newcastle Herald

Would you want one as a pet?

What do you think of the Tasmanian Devil?

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    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      7 years ago

      With that open mouth, it looks fierce and scary!

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 

      7 years ago from Connecticut

      The Tasmanian Devil is an interesting but often misunderstood animal. Hopefully, the breeding program will help control the cancer-like disease that is impacting their native population.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I don't think I'd want to have a 'pet' Tasmanian Devil, but I did like learning more about it. Thanks for the history lesson on this 'critter'. :)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      Amazing animal. Thanks for the cute lens.


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