In the prehistoric period, these animals were widely distributed throughout the mainland Australia. Today, however, the Tasmanian devil is merely a symbol of Tasmania. The Tasmanian devil is a well-known, small marsupial the size of a small dog. The species is so called by the early European settlers due to its overall black coloration, bad-temper and the terrifying screeching sounds it emits. And indeed, this marsupial often has an aggressive behavior and is commonly known for its spine-chilling calls. Moreover, this animal has extremely strong jaws and teeth, allowing it to totally destroy its meal, including bones and fur.
The original range of this species covered much of the mainland Australia. Presently, the Tasmanian devil is endemic exclusively to Tasmania, where it inhabits a wide variety of habitats form the seashore to mountainous areas. The preferred habitats, however, are dry eucalypt forests, open woodlands as well as agricultural lands.
Habits and lifestyle
This marsupial is generally solitary, socializing when feeding and mating. Tasmanian devils are known to gather in feeding groups, usually at carrion. When this happens, the animals display highly aggressive behavior, although they are non-territorial. During the daytime hours, they typically sunbathe or shelter in dense bushes or dens, which are either underground burrows or hollow logs. They come out of their dens only during the night in order to feed. Although this clumsy animal moves around with a characteristic loping gait, it's able to travel long distances of up to 16 km per night. Tasmanian devils possess well-developed senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. These animals communicate with each other through a wide variety of vocalizations such as the well-known horrifying screeches and fierce growls. They are also known to use some physical gestures, including yawning and tail-raising.
Diet and nutrition
As opportunistic feeders, these carnivorous marsupials may consume nearly any type of food from frogs, birds and fish to small mammals and reptiles. It’s known that they more eagerly feed upon occasional carrion that hunt live prey.
Tasmanian devils are polygynandrous (promiscuous), which means that both males and females have multiple mates. They usually mate in March, producing offspring in April. Gestation period lasts for 21 days, yielding a litter of 2 - 3 babies, which climb into the pouch of their mother, living there for the first 4 months of their lives. Then they start coming out of the pouch, moving to the den after a while. Weaning occurs at 5 - 6 months old, whereas independence is reached by 8 months old. The age of sexual maturity for this species is 2 years old.
pup, joey, imp
Since 2001, these animals have lost about 60% of their total population because of a cancer known as 'devil facial tumor disease' (DFTD). Currently, DFTD occupies more than 60% of current range of the Tasmanian devil. In some populations, up to 83% of adult individuals are infected by DFTD. On the other hand, these marsupials compete with introduced red fox for food, habitat and den sites. And finally, these Endangered animals are highly threatened by road accidents and persecution by farmers, who consider the Tasmanian devil a pest species.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Tasmanian devils is around 10,000-25,000 mature individuals. Specific populations have been estimated in following areas: North-Western Tasmania - 3,000 and 12,500 mature individuals; Eastern/South-western Tasmania - 7,000 - 12,500 mature individuals. Overall, Tasmanian devils’ numbers are decreasing today, and currently these animals are classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.
Tasmanian devil is a key predator of its range. In facts, this animal is the second largest native terrestrial predator of the area only to the Tasmanian wolf. Tasmanian devil can truly be called the 'vacuum cleaner' of its habitat, since the animal generally prefers feeding upon carrion, thus maintaining the health of the local ecosystem.
Fun facts for kids
- The Tasmanian devil belongs to the genus of harrisii. In 1808, George Harris, a surveyor and naturalist, was first to describe this species in science journals.
- The well-known 'Loony Tunes' cartoon character 'Taz' is a Tasmanian devil.
- This species serves as the symbol of National Parks and Wildlife Service of Tasmania.
- Despite its small size, this marsupial, in fact, has one of the strongest bites of all the world's animals due to its powerful, muscular jaws.
- The tail of this animal is used as storage of extra fat.
- In spite of being very clumsy on the ground, these marsupials are amazingly excellent climbers when in trees.
- The genus name of this species is “Sarcophilus”, meaning 'meat-loving': this is a combination of Greek words “sarx” or “sarkos” (flesh) and “philos” (beloved, dear, loving).
- Because of the extremely strong teeth and the nosy scavenging habits, this animal is nicknamed the Australian hyena.
- The hind legs of Tasmanian devil are shorter than the forelegs.
- When gathering into feeding groups, these animals are extremely noisy, raising a stink that is heard at a distance of several kilometers.