The Tasmanian Devil is a carnivorous marsupial that was once native to mainland Australia but now is only found in the wild on the island state of Tasmania.
The Tasmanian devil cannot be mistaken for any other marsupial. Its spine-chilling screeches, black colour, and reputed bad-temper, led the early European settlers to call it The Devil. Although only the size of a small dog, it can sound and look incredibly fierce.
Devils are mostly black but usually have white markings on the rump or the chest. Adult male devils are usually bigger than the females. They stand about 30 centimetres (or 12 inches) high at the shoulder and weigh up to 14 kilograms.
Adult devils have heads that look almost too big for their bodies. In older males, the head and neck can take up nearly a quarter of their weight. That's because devils need those powerful jaws to crunch through bones.
Like other marsupials, the devil stores fat in its tail so that its body has something to draw on when food gets scarce. So, if you see a Tasmanian devil with a fat tail, it means it is in good condition.
The Tasmanian Devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger in 1936. It is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odour, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil's large head and neck allow it to generate among the strongest bites per unit body mass of any extant mammal land predator, and it hunts prey and scavenges carrion as well as eating household products if humans are living nearby.
The famous gape or yawn of the devil that looks so threatening, can be misleading. This display is performed more from fear and uncertainty than from aggression. Devils produce a strong odour when under stress, but when calm and relaxed they are not smelly.
The Tasmanian Devil's Diet
The devil is mainly a scavenger and feeds on whatever is available. Powerful jaws and teeth enable it to completely devour its prey -- bones, fur and all. Wallabies, and various small mammals and birds, are eaten -- either as carrion or prey. Reptiles, amphibians, insects and even sea squirts have been found in the stomachs of wild devils. Carcasses of sheep and cattle provide food in farming areas. Roadkill is a favourite and an easy snack for the Devils.
Devils maintain bush and farm hygiene by cleaning up carcasses. This can help reduce the risk of blowfly strike to sheep by removing food for maggots.
Tasmanian Devil's Life Cycle
Devil mothers are pregnant for about 21 days. The mother can give birth to 20-40 young, which are each about the size of a grain of rice. However, she has only four teats in her pouch, so it is a race to the pouch, with the first four winning a chance at survival. It's tough being a young devil.
The mother carries her young, which are called imps or joeys, in her pouch for about four months. When the imps are ready to leave the pouch, the mother leaves them in a simple den. The mother puts in a lot of effort to care for her young. She'll regularly come back to the den to feed them milk. The imps are weaned when they are about 10 months old.
Tasmanian devils are mature when they are two years old. They live for about five or six years, although if conditions are good they can live up to seven.
Young devils can climb very well, using the large footpads on their hind legs as friction pads so they don't slide back. Adult devils climb as well. Devils can grip well with their front paws, even though they don't have retractable claws (they can't 'pull in' their claws like cats do).
The Tasmanian Devil becomes extinct in mainland Australia
The date that the Tasmanian devil became locally extinct from the Australian mainland is unclear; most evidence suggests they had contracted to around three distinct populations around 3000 years ago. A tooth found in Augusta, Western Australia has been dated to 430 years ago, but archaeologist Oliver Brown disputes this and considers the devil's mainland extinction to have occurred around 3000 years ago.
This disappearance is usually blamed on dingoes, which do not exist in Tasmania. Because they were seen as a threat to livestock and animals that humans hunted for fur in Tasmania, devils were hunted and became unofficially endangered. In 1941 the devils became officially protected. Since then, scientists have contended that earlier concerns that the devils were the most significant threat to livestock were overestimated and misplaced.
The Tasmanian Devil is facing extinction in Tasmania
The Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)was first noticed in the north-east of Tasmania in the mid-1990s but has become more prevalent in recent times in other areas of the State.
Since the late 1990s, the DFTD has drastically reduced the devil population and now threatens the survival of the species, which in 2008 was officially declared to be an endangered species. As such, Tasmanian Devils are now wholly protected. Also, on the tiny east-coast Maria Island there are programs currently being undertaken by the Government of Tasmania to reduce the impact of the disease. This includes an initiative to build up a group of healthy devils in captivity, isolated from the disease.
While the thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) was still in existence it preyed on the devil, which targeted young and unattended Tasmanian Tiger cubs in their dens.
Localised populations of devils have also been severely reduced by collisions with motor vehicles, particularly when they are eating roadkill.
The devil is an iconic symbol of Tasmania and many organisations, groups and products associated with the state use the animal in their logos. It is seen as an important attractor of tourists to Tasmania and has come to worldwide attention through the Looney Tunes character of the same name.
In 2013, Tasmanian devils were once again being sent to zoos around the world as part of the Australian government's Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.