The Tasmanian Devil is the world’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial. They are a nocturnal species and will travel up to 16km in an evening in search of food.
Tasmanian Devils have a thick stout build with a relatively large broad head and short, thick tail. The fur is mostly black with unique white markings often occuring across the rump and chest often stretching around to the flanks. The white markings vary across individuals varying in shape and size.
Male Tasmanian Devils are usually larger than females weighing up to 12 kg (generally average 7-9kg) and females average 5-6kg.
Habitat and Distribution
Tasmanian Devils are endemic to Australia and found only on the island of Tasmania in the wild. Devils are adaptable animals and can live from coastal habitats into sub-alpine and alpine environments. Preferred habitat includes open woodland and dry sclerophyll forest. Historically devils were particularly common in forest, woodland and agricultural areas of northern, eastern and central Tasmania.
The Tasmanian Devils is listed as endangered due to a contagious cancer Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). The disease was first sighted in an image from a wildlife photographer in 1996 and since then the wild population has declined by at least 85% (95% in some areas).
DFTD is a fatal condition only in Tasmanian devils, characterized by cancers around the mouth and head and transferred between individuals through biting. DFTD is one of only 3 known transmissible contagious cancers. There is no treatment, cure or vaccine for the cancer at this stage and their survival is dependent on developing a genetically stable insurance population in captivity.
Around 20 institutions across Tasmania and mainland Australia are involved in the captive breeding program and over 200 devils have been born in the program between 2006 and 2011.
Tasmanian Devils are an opportunistic scavenger feeding on a wide variety of animals such as Wallaby, Possum, Rabbit, small mammals, birds, eggs and to a small extent even fish and invertebrates. They have powerful jaws and teeth to enable them to completely devour their prey – bones, fur, skin, gut content and all. They are largely a carrion feeder thought to be able to detect food up to a km away but will also be an opportunistic hunter.
Although Tasmanian Devils are solitary animals they often meet other devils and feed communally at carcasses. This is how they have become famous for their rowdy vocalisations when establishing dominance at a carcass feed.
Breeding and Lifecycle
Breeding season for Tasmanian Devils begins as early as January and can go well into July. The females are polyoestrus and typically can cycle 3 times a year if unsuccessful of first oestrus. Gestation is 21days and females will give birth to approx. 30 joeys about the size of a rice grain, very underdeveloped. They however have only 4 teats in a backward-opening pouch and although they can accommodate 4 joeys in the pouch the average number is 3.
They joeys are carried in the pouch until about 4 months of age, after this time the young remain in the den, venturing out after a month or so and beginning to feed on meat the mother brings back to the den. The joeys wean from their mother at approximately 10 months of age and are sexually mature at 2 years old. It has been known that females can produce young at as little as 12 months of age.
Tasmanian Devils have a lifespan of only 6-7 years in the wild.
In September 2006 DFTD was gazette under the Animal Health Act as a notifiable disease and in March, 2008 the Tasmanian Devil’s status was formally upgraded to endangered under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. Late in 2008 the Tasmanian Devil was also uplisted to Endangered on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
The Zoo and Aquarium Association acknowledges Healesville Sanctuary for providing the factsheet information above.