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Tasmanian Devil

Updated on August 14, 2009

A member of the Dasyurirdae family of the carnivorous marsupials, the Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus harrisii is found only in Tasmania where its natural range includes not only remote regions (rivers, lakes, and beaches), but even outer suburbs.

Tasmanian devil is a small bearlike pouched mammal named for its ferocious appearance. The Tasmanian devil grows to about 3 feet (90 cm) in length, not including its foot-long (30-cm) tail. It has a short, heavy head with a pinkish white snout, strong jaw muscles and powerful teeth. Its eyes are small, its ears large and pink. Its coarse coat is black with white patches on the throat, shoulder, rump and occasionally the tail tip.

It was once widespread on the mainland of Australia, judging from the bones found in Aborigines' middens. There are occasional reports even today of its continued existence on the mainland but these reports have not been confirmed. One was killed in 1912 in Victoria but it was believed to have escaped from a zoo. When all is said and done, nobody is very sure when the 'devil' became extinct on the mainland of Australia or what wiped it out.

The dingo has been blamed, but that is only guesswork. It could just as easily turn up again, as the noisy scrub bird and other animals have done.

The Tasmanian devil is the second largest carnivorous marsupial, after the thylacine.

Devilish Behaviour?

The Tasmanian devil lives in woodlands and rocky, inaccessible places, sheltering in the daytime in caves, hollow logs or among tree roots and coming out only at night to hunt. It takes readily to water, diving in when pursued and swimming underwater to surface

It is not a particularly good climber although it may run up leaning tree trunks and stout branches. It received the name 'devil' because of its reputation for savagery, which can be justified by its behaviour towards animal prey; but there is little to prove that it is savage towards humans.

It seems to be indifferent to danger when eating and will allow itself to be caught and handled, in marked contrast to other flesh-eating animals which tend to be more savage when feeding. According to those who have who kept and bred devils, they make delightful and affectionate pets. They are very clean animals and love bathing themselves, washing their faces by licking their cupped fore-paws and wiping them over their heads. They also enjoyed basking in the sun. One Tasmanian farmer had two tame devils which he used to take out walking with him on a lead and even took them on a trip to Melbourne.

The devil's voice is a whining growl, followed by a snarling cough or low yell.

Dead or Alive

The Tasmanian devil feeds on any flesh, dead or alive, and it will even pull down animals larger than itself. According to Gould, it used to invade sheep-folds and hen-roosts, but small wallabies, rat kangaroos, small mammals, frogs, mice, rats, birds and lizards now make up most of its diet. It is thought that frogs and crayfish may also be taken, as devils have often been seen on the banks of streams.

Few enemies

The Tasmanian devil's disappearance from the mainland of Australia is said by some experts to be almost certainly due to the spread of the dingo. Fortunately this wild dog never penetrated to Tasmania. Today, owing to its inaccessible habitat, the devil has few enemies and is not considered to be in danger of extermination by other animals.

Breeding

Tasmanian devils seem to have unusual breeding habits. In April the male and female come together but they do not mate for nearly 2 weeks. During that time, curiously enough, the male does not let the female out of his den.

After they have mated, however, the female turns the tables on him and snarls and bites whenever he approaches her. The young, never more than four, are born at the end of May or beginning of June in a closed pouch which is made of a flap of skin directed backwards and enclosing four teats. The baby devil is less than 1 inch long at birth but grows to 2 inches within 7 weeks. It holds on to a teat all the time for 15 weeks, after which time its eyes have opened and its coat has grown.

In late September, feet or tail are sometimes seen sticking out of the pouch and soon after this both male and female make a soft bed of grass or straw for the young, in a hollow tree-trunk, under a rock or even in a wombat's burrow. The young are not weaned for 5 months and it is thought they do not become sexually mature until their second year. They may live for 7 to 8 years, perhaps longer.

References

  • The Angus & Robertson Concise Australian Encyclopaedia, Second Edition, 1986.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 18, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 19.
  • The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, B.P.C. Publishing, 1968. Volume 17, Page 2373.

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    • profile image

      kiora 

      6 years ago

      It doesnt tell you the name of their enemies

    • profile image

      WayneBass 

      9 years ago from Aurora

      It is a shame for the cancer blight on the wonderful creatures. Did you mention this blite - I did not see anything mentioned about this. I also would like to recommend that you limit your hubs published in a single day or two. You do realize we get an email on each one.

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