The Tasmanian Devil is known to be the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. Hence, it is biologically related to the kangaroos, the bandicoots, and possums. They are one of Australia’s most beloved animal species but face the threat of extinction due to the incurable DFDT disease.
Here are ten facts about these little devils (pun intended 😉
1. Where the Name “Tasmanian Devil” Comes From
The origin of their name goes way back to the time when the first Europeans came to Australia (Tasmania is a part of Australia after all). They mentioned hearing cries that sounded so devilish that the group of people was convinced that the sounds were made by evil spirits that had possessed the bushes in the forest.
Thus, because they were discovered in Tasmania and their cries seemed so far from animal cries that people were convinced that the sounds were made by evil spirits sent by the devil himself, these rodent-like creatures were named the Tasmanian Devil.
2. The behavior of the Tasmanian Devil
The Tasmanian Devil’s MO is that of a lone ranger, i.e., it likes being alone. A lot. Furthermore, these animals are nocturnal and have an excellent sense of smell and eyesight that helps them smell out prey and avoid predators.
They usually settle in dark places like burrows that they dig themselves or find, caves, or merely hollow tree logs that offer habitable conditions. They emerge at night to hunt and gather food.
Their relationship with humans is nonthreatening. Although there is a commonly held belief that they will attack human beings, they shake nervously when in the presence of humans, and hence might also react in violent ways if they feel threatened. They do not display or respond in any manner to the affection of any sort.
3. The temperament of the Tasmanian Devil
Although these little guys might seem to be adorable in at least some pictures, they’re not so in real life. They’re wild tempered. In other words, go crazy when they feel threatened or when they compete for a meal with their peers or when they fight for a potential mate.
The extent of their aggressive behavior includes, but is not limited to, teeth-baring, lunging, and making terrifying guttural noises. The Tasmanian Devil is also reported to be incredibly territorial.
The Tasmanian Devil is known to be predatory. It feeds on the dead, decaying matter as well, but that is considered to be a secondary source of food, although it is tapped into quite frequently.
Its main carnivorous diet consists of insects, birds, snakes, and fish. They are not very selective about what they consume and eat every last bit of their meal, which is usually whatever they can get their hands on.
5. Reproductive Tendencies
The Tasmanian Devil is a mammal and is also marsupial, so the younglings are born underdeveloped, and they grow up further inside the mother’s pouch. The many babies are only as small as the size of a raisin. Female Tasmanian Devils are usually pregnant for only about three weeks. The mothers give birth to twenty to thirty younglings, but because the mother only has four nipples, a lot of the younglings born do not make it to adulthood.
The infants crawl out of the mother’s pouch by the sixth month and are left to fend for themselves by the eighth month of their existence. The breeding season usually lasts from February to May, and since these animals are mostly solitary, they can only be seen during the mating season.
6. Physical Appearance
The Tasmanian Devils are typically known to have a dark brown or black coat of fur. They are also known to be a bit stocky and have an almost pig-like gait. Their appearance can also be compared to that of a baby bear. They have long front legs and rather short hind legs. They also have a white patch on their chest, with patchy spots on their sides and behind.
The average length of a Tasmanian Devil is about thirty inches or two and a half feet. They weigh anywhere between 20-30 pounds, but their living conditions widely determine that, and more importantly, on the availability of food.
If the Tasmanian Devil is well fed, then the tail swells with the fat accumulated by the food consumed. This feature is common to a lot of marsupials.
Their head is slightly oversized, and they have very sharp teeth, with immensely strong and muscular jaws. Their bite is also considered to be one of the most powerful of all mammals. The devils, however, do not have a very long lifespan, as they only live for about five years. Females of the age of two are most active in reproduction and spend most of their time taking care of their babies.
Tasmanian Devils usually prefer open and dry surroundings for sustainable habitat. They prefer living in open forests and are hence, found in areas that have little to moderate amounts of rainfall. They are not found in places that are at high altitudes either.
As the name suggests, the devils are most prominently found on the island of Tasmania, but they were once found in the Australian mainland as well. They are most commonly found around roads on the outskirts of urban areas and farmhouses. They also lie in wait to scavenge road kills, and they often do so in groups. The devils are also known to lie in wait to pounce on small livestock like chicken.
8. Why is it Getting Extinct?
The Devil Facial Tumor Disease, abbreviated as DFTD, was discovered around 1995 and has been the primary cause of the decreasing population of the Tasmanian Devil. The secondary causes that lead to the death of members of the species include roadkills. This is because of the devil lingering while feasting on dead carcasses found on highways and the likes.
One other secondary cause that leads to the death of the members of the species is the introduction of Asian dogs or dingoes in Australia that dates back about 5000 years. The dingoes fulfilled the same role in the food chain as the devils and were partially responsible for the confinement of the devils to Tasmania.
This is because dingoes were necessary to control the population of not only the herbivores but also the feral cats and the foxes—the society of both predators seen a rise in recent years since the dingo population has depleted rapidly.
9. The Devil Facial Tumor Disease
The Devil Facial Tumor Disease has been the primary cause of the depletion of the population of Tasmanian devils by thousands over the years. What makes DFTD lethal is the fact that it has no cure to date. It is transmissible and can spread across members of the species by biting.
It is a cancer-like disease, where the tumors develop around the head and mouth, which makes it extremely difficult for the animal to eat. The devil usually starves to death if it has DFTD due to its inability to consume any food at all.
The species is officially listed as endangered, and scientists are hard at work, looking for regions in which this lethal disease has not yet appeared in populations of the Tasmanian Devil. They are further working on captive breeding programs to breed members of the species that are free from the disease and to combat the steadily declining population of the Tasmanian Devil.
In a research conducted by scientists in 2016, another transmissible cancer-like disease was found, which was labeled the Devil Facial Tumor 2 or DFT2, which is quite indistinguishable from the DFTD, which has now come to be known as DFT1, due to the discovery of the other disease.
The Australian government has made attempts to make a difference and has launched the government-funded initiative, the Save The Tasmanian Devil program. The movement was established in the year 2003 after national wildlife specialists took the issue with increasing importance.
10. In Pop Culture
The Tasmanian Devil, however lethal and aggressive it might be, is widely beloved in Australia and is the animal mascot of its state.
It is also the mascot of many state basketball teams, predominantly in the state of Arkansas, with three to four schools using the coveted devil as their mascot.
The devil has also featured in the immensely popular cartoon TV show, Looney Tunes, in which the Tasmanian Devil is better known as Taz, and it’s cartoon adaptation shares most of its behavioral characteristics with its actual behavior in the wild. In other words, it is just as crazy, wild tempered and impulsive as is portrayed in the immensely famous cartoon show.
Sanctuaries like the Healesville Sanctuary and the export of the animals to zoos, notably the San Diego zoo, have shown hope that some form of awareness will be shown amongst the people so that the population of the species can be increased. Scientists are heavily researching and experimenting on whether or not human anti-cancer drugs can make a difference in the cure of DFT1 and DFT2.
The Tasmanian Devil is essential for the ecology in more ways than one, and with the rate at which wild species have become extinct in Australia, the survival of the Tasmanian Devil must be of prime importance to environmentalists and animal welfare enthusiasts not only down under but all across the globe.
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