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Tasmanian Devil

Sarcophilus harrisii

Tasmanian Devil
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Tasmanian Devil • Sarcophilus harrisii
The spine-chilling screeches, black colour, and reputed bad-temper, led the early European settlers to call the creature ‘The Devil’. Although only small in stature, it can sound and look incredibly fierce and dangerous and cannot be mistaken for any other marsupial.

The Tasmanian Devil is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial. It has a thick-set and squat build, with large, broad head and short, thick tail. The fur is black, although white markings often occur on the rump and chest. The body size can vary, dependent on the diet and habitat, with adult males weighing up to 12 kg and standing 30 cm high at the shoulder. Adult males are usually larger than the adult females. They live on average for up to 5 years. In captivity they can live a few more years.

Devils are most closely related to quolls, with their next closest relationship being smaller marsupials and then a more distant relationship with thylacines.

Tasmanian Devil, Towunna Wildlife Park, Tasmania.WHERE TO SEE THEM:
The Devils were once found on the mainland of Australia, as indicated through fossil remains, having become extinct on the mainland several thousand years ago. Today, wild Devils are found only in Tasmania.

Devils can be seen at Narawntapu National Park, Mount William National Park, Cradle Mountain National Park, the Arthur River, and the Freycinet Peninsula. No doubt they are also in many of the less accessible areas of Tasmania. They can also be seen in many rural and wilderness areas, by driving slowly at night, especially along secondary roads, especially a few hours after sunset. They have also been seen quietly sunbaking.

Some of Tasmania wildlife parks and sanctuaries, will also have injured Devils on show, as well as places like the Torowunna Wildlife Park, who are involved in a breeding program.

Devils can exist in most parts of Tasmania, from coastal heath, dry sclerophyll forest and mixed sclerophyll rainforest, from the coast through to the mountain regions. They will live where they can shelter, hide and find food. Although they are not territorial, Devils do have a home range. The Devils are nocturnal creatures, and can roam considerable distances when searching for food, they have been tracked travelling between 10 to 20 km in a night within their home range. Devils have been ‘clocked’ running on a flat road at nearly 25 km/h for up to 1 km, whilst Devils in general can run at 10 km per hour for many kms.

They have a characteristic gait as they slowly ambles along, but can move quickly, with young devils having the agility to climb trees. Devils can also swim, although they will avoid swimming far with young ones in the pouch.

The Devils make a variety of fierce sounds, from snarls and harsh coughs, to the high pitched screeches. The famous yawn of the Devils, that people mistaken as threatening, is performed more from fear and has less to do with aggression. They do have a sharp sneeze when challenging other Devils, but these are more bluff and part of their behaviour to minimise harm when feeding communally at a carcass.

Tasmanian Devil, Towunna Wildlife Park, Tasmania.DIET:
Mainly scavengers, Devils are famous for their rowdy communal feeding habits at carcasses. This noisy behaviour is to establish dominance amongst the pack. The Devils powerful jaws and teeth are able to to devour an entire carcass, including the bones and fur. Devils have also been know to eat small prey, including mammals, bird, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. They have devoured carcasses of sheep and cattle in farming areas. By consuming dead carcasses, assists in reducing the risk of blowfly strike and flies in general that live off dead carrion.

In wilderness areas where there is not much carrion, devils hunt a lot. They will eat birds, fish, wallabies, echidnas, platypus, wombats, even invertebrates such as moths, tadpoles, frogs and reptiles. They will kill any animal that is trapped, injured or sick.

Once a nuisance to the early settlers, where they were said to raid the poultry yards, there was once a bounty. Devils were charged with eating animals caught in snares and it was believed that they took lambs and sheep. For over a century they were trapped and snared, and it looked like they were heading for extinction. It wasn’t until 1941 when they became protected by law, that they were safe and have started to gradually increase in numbers, with the Tasmanian Devil also being chosen as the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In the past we would assume that thylacines were predators of the Devils. During the day, small Devils run the risk from large birds of prey such as eagles, whist at night they run risks from large owls like the masked owl and large quolls like the spotted tail quoll. Large Devils will also eat small Devils if they are hungry enough, this may explain why young Devils can climb so well, to escape large Devils.

Devils mate during March, with the young being born in April. Gestation is 21 days, and often there are more young born than can be accommodated in the mother’s pouch, which has only 4 teats. Attached to a teat, the young ones are carried in the pouch for about four to four and a half months, this is around July. The young ones start venturing out of the pouch and are left in the den. They are weaned at 5 to 6 months of age and gradually leave the den around October-December period. They start breeding at the end of their second year.

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Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Marsupialia
Order: Dasyuromorphia
Family: Dasyuridae
Genus: Sarcophilus
Species: S. laniarius

Tasmanian Devil • Other links

Parks & Wildlife / Department of primary industries, Water and Environment
• Information on the Tasmania Devil. You can also hear what they sound like.
Tasmanian Devil • Email
The Interactive Tour of Tasmania • Some information on the Tassie Devil.
Unique Australian Animals • The Tasmanian Devil is the largest carnivorous (eats meat) marsupial (a mammal that has its babies in a pouch) in Australia. Tasmanian Devils are a nocturnal (active at night) animal. lives alone and prefers its own company hence it is a relatively shy animal. Personal site that includes the Tasmanian Devil.
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