The Tasmanian Devil in the shadows is almost a shadow in our memories. Once common on mainland Australia for probably the last 3,000 years the only place in the world they live in the wild is in Tasmania. The size of a small dog, the devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world now that the Tasmanian Tiger (the Thylacine) is extinct. They belong to the family Dasyuridae which are a marsupial family found in Australia and New Guinea and includes marsupial mice and the vicious quoll.
The Devil is itself vicious and is extremely malodorous with a high pitch loud screech and a keen sense of smell. Unlike other marsupials they can control their temperature allowing them to be active during the day although they are nocturnal by nature. They can run extremely fast, climb trees and swim rivers and travel up to 16 kms to catch their prey. They have a distinctive white band across their chest and this is unique to each Devil and acts as fingerprints do for us. It’s ferocity when eating is second to none as it devours its prey bones and all. The design of the Devil’s head and neck allow it to generate massive force in its jaws. In fact it has the strongest bite per unit of body mass of all the existing land mammals in the world. It feeds on prey, carrion and scavenging from humans. A male Tasmanian Devil in one eating session can consume a quarter of its own body weight.
Females spend most of their life producing and rearing young. In their average four breeding seasons the female will give birth to around 20 – 30 live young but as the female only has four teats it really becomes survival of the fittest as the young fight for position. Few of the young survive. They are in the backward facing pouch for approximately four months where they grow rapidly. Once they have been ejected from the pouch the mother continues to care for the young until around 9 months of age.
In the early days of settlement the farmers believed the Devil was responsible for many livestock deaths and they were hunted to almost extinction. By 1941 they were a protected species and numbers again started to increase. They are again on the decline as in the 1990’s a disease – a facial tumour – has decimated the population which were already struggling due to a declining habitat and the number which have ended up as road kill as they eat other road kill.
There are virtually none to be seen outside Australia, apart from the Looney Tunes character, due to export restrictions and failure of the Devils that were already residing overseas to breed. Australia zoo has had a very successful breeding programme with 5 joeys produced in 2011.
This is in response to Shadow Shot Sunday