Did you know that the Tasmanian devil is not only a mischievous cartoon character but also a real animal? Found only in the wilds of Tasmania, these feisty creatures can crush through your bones. Prepare to be amazed as we delve into the mysterious facts about the Tasmanian devil, a true icon of the Australian wilderness.
1. They’re the Largest Carnivorous Marsupials in the World
The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial that belongs to the Sarcophilus genus. It’s the only member of this genus since the Thylacine, also called the Tasmanian tiger, vanished in 1936. The species is related to quolls.
Measuring around 12 inches (30 cm) in height and weighing up to 30 pounds (14 kg), this species has a size of a small dog. It has taken over the title of being the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world ever since the extinction of Tasmanian tigers.
Fully-grown devils exhibit an intriguing characteristic wherein their heads and necks appear disproportionately large, constituting almost a quarter of their overall weight in older males. This remarkable anatomical trait contributes to their unmistakable look.
It is characterized by its thick, rough brown or black fur and a sturdy physique, making it look like a moon bear cub. Many of them exhibit white patterns on their chests and light spots on their rump. They possess a short snout and short limbs, with the front legs being longer than the hind legs. This gives the species a slow, pig-like way of walking. Despite their cute appearance, you can keep them as pets.
2. They used to Live on the Australian Mainland
Tasmanian devils once lived in the Australian mainland, their fossils are found all over this place. However, they became extinct around 3,000 years ago, predating the arrival of European settlers. The arrival of dingoes, combined with human influences and climate variations linked to El Niño, potentially played a role in the disappearance of these species from the mainland.
Currently, they exclusively inhabit the Australian island state of Tasmania, where there are no dingoes. These creatures be found in diverse habitats such as mixed sclerophyll-rainforest, open dry sclerophyll forest, and coastal heath.
3. They eat their whole prey, even bones
Tasmanian devils are carnivorous animals, only feeding on meat. Their diet encompasses various creatures such as snakes, birds, lizards, frogs, and even small wallabies like kangaroos. They can devour anything they can crash with their 42 sharp teeth that keep growing through their lives, even bones.
The devils hold the record for the most powerful bite force among all current mammalian carnivores. Their large heads and jaws, capable of opening up to an impressive 80 degrees, grant them extraordinary bite strength.
With a bite force density of 544 kg PSI (per square inch), they can crash bones and can even penetrate resilient metals like livestock cages and farming fences. This ability allow them to consume their prey entirely, leaving no remnants behind. Thanks to a huge amount of digestive enzymes, the species can break down the bones and get every possible nutrient from their food.
They are also scavengers, feasting on carrion, which has led to them being affectionately called “natural vacuum cleaners.”
These marsupials face some of their predators in their habitat, including spotted-tailed quolls, eagles (like Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles), Tasmanian wolves, and owls.
4. They store fat in their tails
The devils are renowned for their remarkable eating capacity. On average, an adult with a weight of about 10 kg can eat 1 kg of food each day. This amount may fluctuate depending on the condition.
In times of scarcity, these tenacious creatures can consume up to 40% of their own body weight in a single meal. This excess fat will then be stored in their tail, utilizing it as a reserve to sustain themselves when their next meal becomes uncertain.
When looking at a Tasmanian devil, you can know its health through its tail. A conspicuously plump tail means the animal has good health. Interestingly, the tails of these devils can undergo a thickening process analogous to the expansion of humans’ waistlines.
5. They Are beneficial to the ecosystem
Tasmanian devils have earned the nickname “natural vacuum cleaners” due to their eating habits. As mentioned earlier, these remarkable creatures consume carrion, effectively decreasing the population of maggots that could pose a threat to livestock. Furthermore, their tendency to consume sick animals helps prevent the spread of diseases within that species.
In addition, Tasmanian devils play a vital role in safeguarding indigenous birds in Tasmania which are hunted by feral cats. They also assist in managing the population of red foxes – an invasive species in Australia. With the presence of the devils, it’s difficult for foxes and cats to have successful breeding. They are easily detected and competed for food.
Not only do these marsupials play a crucial role in the ecological balance but they also hold immense cultural significance as iconic symbols of the Tasmanian. Their distinct presence attracts tourists, thereby making a significant contribution to the economy here.
6. They have a creepy scream
The name ‘Tasmanian devils’ was bestowed upon these creatures due to the horrified screams they produce. As the initial European settlers set foot in Tasmania, they were taken aback by the eerie and bone-chilling shrieks and snarls reverberating from the heart of the wilderness. Mistakenly attributing these noises to malevolent spirits concealed within the foliage, they fittingly dubbed these animals as devils of the Tasmanian.
Apart from their spine-chilling screams, these creatures produce a variety of other strange sounds, including snorts, sneezes, growls, screeches, sniffs, and coughs. These vocalizations primarily function as defensive mechanisms, aiming to threaten other animals and prevent confrontations.
Tasmanian devils are creatures of the night, known for their nocturnal habits and extensive travels in search of food. Thanks to the dark coat, they can blend into their surroundings at night. During the day, they rest in dens that are established in diverse places, such as natural caves, abandoned wombat burrows, and hollow logs. To mark these territories, they use their specialized scent glands that release a disagreeable odor.
While typically solitary in nature, these animals sometimes come together to share a meal. This fascinating activity resembles a tug-of-war, as they collaborate to divide the food into smaller portions. These species showcase impressive swimming skills, reaching speeds of up to 24 kilometers per hour (15 miles per hour).
Their preference is to sleep within a decaying carcass, allowing them to resume feasting upon awakening. You may think it’s disgusting, but this plays a crucial role in maintaining cleanliness and preventing the proliferation of blowfly maggots in the environment.
In spite of their formidable name and impressive jaws, Tasmanian devils are not aggressive. In contrast, they’re typically timid animals. They are not dangerous to humans or target livestock. They just eat those already roosting on the ground.
When faced with threats, they exhibit a unique defensive behavior by spinning around in circles. In addition to this spinning motion, they also lunge at their potential attacker while emitting shrill shrieks, hissing sounds, and displaying their razor-sharp teeth.
They exhibit remarkable agility in climbing trees. Their elongated front legs and specially designed footpads on their hind legs ensure they can grip tree trunks without slipping. However, only the juvenile devils can do this. This ability helps the young to get away from the adult devils who will readily eat them when hungry.
6. They have a harsh life at the beginning
The Tasmanian devils’ mating season occurs from March to May. During this period, the males will compete with each other. The winner will have the right to mate with the female. After going through an approximately 3-week gestation period, the female gives birth to 20 – 50 offspring, known as joeys or imps. The newborns have a size of a grain of rice.
Similar to kangaroos and possums, Tasmanian devils are marsupials that possess pouches to nurture their offspring. This pouch features a lower opening that prevents dirt from entering while the mother is on the move.
The joeys face the challenge at the moment they are born. These newborn babies have to race with other siblings to reach their mother’s pouch to survive. This is because the mother only has 4 teats. Only the first four joeys that successfully find and latch onto these teats will live. The remaining ones will die. Many of them are eaten by their mother as a source of sustenance.
The joeys will be in the pouch for approximately 3 to 4 months. Once emerging from the pouch, they stay in a concealed den for another 3 months. During this time, the mother teaches them essential skills to survive in this world alone. The young begin venturing outside and wean off at the age of 10 months. When the time comes, they leave the den forever and start a new journey.
At the age of 2, they reach maturity. The lifespan of Tasmanian devils in the wild can be up to 5 years.
7. They Are Endangered
Starting from 2008, Tasmanian devils have been classified as endangered species due to various threats they encounter for their survival, including roadkills. However, the most significant issue they face is Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), an uncommon type of cancer that spreads through biting.
Over the past few decades, this disease has rapidly proliferated, leading to an alarming 80% decrease in devil populations throughout Tasmania. Dogs and vehicle collisions worsen the situation of these creatures. About 25,000 individuals are remaining in the wild.
Many efforts are currently being made to protect and save the animals from the disease. The main focus is centered around preserving their natural habitat. Bonorong, along with other wildlife sanctuaries, plays a crucial role in the conservation of this species by providing care for injured devils, nurturing orphaned young individuals, and implementing preventive measures to contain the spread of DFTD.
Moreover, these sanctuaries assist to segregate and propagate disease-free populations. This helps to enhance the species’ prospects for enduring survival.