Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil
TASMANIAN DEVIL (Sarcophilus harrisii)
Pronounced: Sar-co-fil-us hayr-i-see Order: Dasyuromorphia
Kingdom: Animalia Family: Dasyuridae
Phylum: Chordata Genus: Sarcophilus
Class: Mammalia Species: Harrisii

The world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian Devil is in danger of becoming extinct. In the mid 1990’s there were an estimated 150,000 individuals, but numbers have dropped to less than 50,000 animals, and they are still in serious decline. The major threat to their survival is the development of a contagious cancerous tumour near their mouths that interferes with their ability to eat. Most animals who contract the disease die of starvation within 6 months.

Tasmanian Devils are black, bearish looking animals with a white breast marking, weighing up to 26 pounds (12 kg). Although they resemble teddy-bears, their habit of holding their mouths open, exposing big teeth, along with their bad tempers and snarls, are more like that of the hyena, and gave them the common name of “devil”.

While their main source of food is carrion (animals that are already dead), they will also eat beetle larvae and Bogong moths, and are active hunters of prey up to 20 kg in size, including snakes, birds and fish. But, usually, they frequent areas where humans are hunting or raising animals, and prey on dead wallabies, sheep and calves. When they are getting enough food, they store extra fat in their tails, like other marsupials.

Devils are nocturnal and travel several kilometres each night. Their range includes several different dens – they stay in one for a few days, then move on to another. They are highly aggressive during mating season, males fighting each other by biting and snarling. They are also highly defensive of their food, spitting and charging to defend their meals.

Females have babies about once a year. Less than two weeks after fertilization of the eggs, she releases 20 or 30 very tiny young into her pouch. However, she has only 4 nipples, so usually only 4 survive.

They are only found in Tasmania and on Robbins Island, although they were once common throughout Australia. They prefer coastal scrublands and forest, but are found over the entire island in various habitats. Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is now their biggest threat.


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