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What is a Tasmanian Devil?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial that makes its home in Tasmania. They have a reputation as fierce fighters, which they partially deserve, as the males frequently fight for territory or mating rights. They are also prolific hunters, usually employing a pack hunting strategy to bring down larger prey. The first immigrants to Tasmania felt the Tasmanian devils were a particular nuisance since they would kill sheep. They were also alarmed by the loud screams and grunts the animals exhibited when eating, fighting or killing prey.

The Tasmanian devil is not particularly large. Adults may weigh about 15 pounds (6.8 kg), and be about 2 feet (60.96 cm) long. Birth weight, conversely is tiny. The average newborn devil is about the size of a grain of rice. The Tasmanian devil is usually dark black in color, though may have some markings of white around the neck. Their prominent noses give them an excellent sense of smell, which is ideal for hunting and tracking prey. Additionally, they are quite stocky in body, with powerful limbs and very sharp teeth.

The average life span of the Tasmanian devil is about 8 years. Only about 40% will survive to age one, possibly due in part to the fact that Tasmanian devil litters are huge. They can have up to 50 babies in one litter, but only four of the litter will survive. The new babies will struggle to reach the pouch and attach to on of the mother’s four teats. The attached babies will survive, and the rest are simply left to die. Like Kangaroos, the baby devil is called a joey.

Mothers care for the joeys for about 6 months before they are weaned and sent away from the mother’s habitat. Younger devils are more agile than their older counterparts, and are particularly adept at climbing trees. This can be the saving grace from their major predators, domestic dogs, and other adult Tasmanian devils.

Tasmanian devils are nocturnal hunters, and even those who dislike them, must agree that they perform an important function by keeping down the number of rats and mice in the area. They are closely related to the quoll, which also lives on Tasmania, but the quoll has a better reputation and is not considered quite so vicious. In fact the Tasmanian devil is not really vicious, but its growls and shrieks are somewhat disturbing, while the quoll hunts rather quietly, and so is often preferred.

The Tasmanian devil is called a gorge feeder as it consumes huge amounts of food at one sitting, and is known for eating virtually anything it comes across, no matter how old or rotten. Devils are sometimes called carnivorous vacuum cleaners because they tend to clear areas of skeletons, animal carcasses and garbage. In fact they prefer eating things easily obtained like dead animals, to hunting animals for themselves.

Since the Tasmanian devil does keep down rodent populations, they have been allowed to thrive and are now the representative animal for the Parks and Wildlife Services of Tasmania. Though the population is doing well, a new disease, called Devil Wasting Facial Disease, which has begun causing the deaths of young adult devils. Currently researchers are investigating the cause of this disease in hopes of its elimination so the Tasmanian devil will continue to thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Tasmanian Devil?

The Tasmanian Devil is a carnivorous marsupial native to Tasmania, an island state of Australia. It's the largest living marsupial carnivore, known for its stocky build, black fur, and ferocious feeding habits. Despite its aggressive reputation, the devil is a crucial part of Tasmania's ecosystem, helping to control the population of other animals and clean up carrion.

Why is the Tasmanian Devil endangered?

The Tasmanian Devil is endangered primarily due to a contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). Since its discovery in 1996, DFTD has drastically reduced devil populations. According to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, the disease has led to an 80% decline in devil numbers, making conservation efforts critical for their survival.

What do Tasmanian Devils eat?

Tasmanian Devils are opportunistic feeders with a diet that includes birds, snakes, fish, insects, and carrion. They are known to consume every part of their prey, including bones and fur, which provides them with essential nutrients. Their powerful jaws and teeth allow them to take on larger prey and act as efficient scavengers.

How do Tasmanian Devils reproduce?

Tasmanian Devils breed once a year, with females giving birth to up to 50 tiny joeys. However, due to limited teat availability in the mother's pouch—usually only four—most joeys do not survive. The surviving joeys remain in the pouch for about four months before transitioning to riding on their mother's back and eventually becoming independent.

What is being done to save the Tasmanian Devil?

Conservation efforts to save the Tasmanian Devil include captive breeding programs, research into Devil Facial Tumour Disease, and the establishment of disease-free populations on isolated islands and sanctuaries. Organizations like the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program are at the forefront of these efforts, aiming to maintain genetic diversity and secure the species' future.

Can Tasmanian Devils be found outside of Tasmania?

While Tasmanian Devils are native to Tasmania, there are conservation programs that have established populations on the Australian mainland as a safeguard against extinction. These initiatives reintroduce devils into controlled, predator-free environments where they can be monitored and protected from threats like DFTD and habitat loss.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon160024 — On Mar 14, 2011

the people in tasmania stopped hunting the devils because they were protected by law in 1941 and is currently listed as an endangered species.

By anon43813 — On Sep 01, 2009

why do you think e people in Tasmania stopped

hunting and trapping all the Tasmanian devils?

Tasmanian devil are solitary animals -- they live by thmselves. How does this help them survive?

By anon30830 — On Apr 25, 2009

They are part of the marsupial group.

By WGwriter — On Jun 03, 2008

Good Question.

The Tasmanian devil is classed as the following:

Class: Mammalia

Infraclass: Marsupialia

Order: Dasyuromorphia

Family: Dasyuridae

Genus: Sacrophilus

Species S. harrisii

By anon13661 — On Jun 02, 2008

what family group is it in?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia...
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