The Tasmanian devil comes from a family of carnivorous marsupials that includes marsupial mice and native cats, or quolls, which used to live all over Australia. They are now restricted to the island of Tasmania which was never colonized by dingoes. This is the largest of Australia’s carnivorous mammals and the biggest carnivorous marsupial in the world, although it is currently under threat of extinction.
The Tasmanian devil is nocturnal and spends a lot of its time snuffling over the ground trying to pick up the scent of food. It is a very efficient scavenger, and uses its powerful jaws to crush bones and chew up tough skin.
These stocky little carnivores look like tiny bears, but have long tails. They usually have black or dark brown fur, with white markings on their throat, rump and sides.
During the day, Tasmanian devils take refuge in nests of bark, grass or leaves inside hollow logs, old wombat burrows or other sheltered spots. The ferocity of Tasmanian devils has been greatly exaggerated, and although they will sometimes fight savagely amongst themselves when feeding, they are apparently docile and safe to handle.
A deadly cancer is threatening to wipe out these unique marsupials in their last remaining stronghold. Dubbed devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), it appeared in 1995, and already entire populations have died out in some areas. More than two-thirds of their range is affected, and it is feared that the inbred nature of the population makes them vulnerable to this illness. Tumours develop around and inside the mouth, causing infected animals to starve to death.
Distribution: Now restricted entirely to the island of Tasmania, off Australia’s southeastern coast, having become extinct on the mainland in the fourteenth century, before European settlement.
Habitat: Coastal heath and forest.
Weight: 6 - 8 kg (13 - 18 lb); males are heavier.
Length: 81 - 90 cm (32 - 35 in).
Maturity: 2 years.
Gestation Period: 21 days; the tiny young then move instinctively into their mother’s pouch, where there are 4 nipples.
Breeding: 20 - 30; most die due to lack of food, survivors leave the pouch at around 100 days old.
Diet: Meat-based, including carrion.
Lifespan: Up to 8 years.
This serves as a fat store, so a thin tail may indicate ill-health.
These specialist sensory hairs are prominent on the head.
Unlike in other marsupials, the front legs are longer than the hind legs.
Tasmanian devils hide away during the day, and hunt at night.
Fighting is common among Tasmanian devils, as their territories overlap. They often end up carrying the scars for life.
The Tasmanian devil’s bite is proportionately stronger than that of any other living mammal.