The largest carnivorous marsupial has a
thick-set, squat build, with a relatively large,
broad head. Body size varies considerably with
diet, habitat, and age, with a length ranging
from 20 to 32 inches and a weight of 8 to 27
pounds; females are slightly smaller than males.
The fur is mostly or wholly black, but white
markings often occur on the rump and chest.
The Tasmanian Devil is found
only on the island of Tasmania. It inhabits a
wide variety of habitats but is most
numerous in coastal heath and rangeland areas
where agricultural practices maintain a constant
supply of carrion.
Habits and Behaviors
Europeans dubbed this animal "devil"
after seeing individuals "fly into a
rage" when threatened by a predator,
fighting for a mate, or defending a meal with
displays that include teeth-baring, lunging, and
noises ranging from harsh coughs and snarls to
high pitched screeches. What those Europeans did
not know, however, is that such displays are
almost always bluff and that physical fights
between individuals is actually fairly rare.
Both males and females make nests of bark,
grass, and leaves which they inhabit throughout
the day, although they may be seen sunbathing
during the day in quiet areas.
Tasmanian devils can take prey up to the size
of a small kangaroo, but they take most of their
large prey, such as wombats, wallabies, sheep,
and rabbits, in the form of carrion. Their keen
senses of smell and sight allow them to locate
food, both live and dead, easily. They are
efficient scavengers, eating even bones and fur.
They are also very opportunistic and quite
willing to take fish, birds, insects, insect
larvae, snakes, and even small amounts of
vegetation when the opportunity arises.
Males compete for access to breeding females,
who will often mate with more than one male if
not "guarded" after mating.
Most mating takes place in March and the young
are born in April after a gestation period of 21
days. While the female may give birth to as many
20 young she only has 4 mammae and only those
young who make it into her pouch and attach to a
teat will survive; average litter size is 2 or 3.
Each young, firmly attached to a teat, is carried
in the pouch for about 4 months. After this time
the young start venturing out of the pouch and
are then left in a simple den, usually a hollow
log. They are weaned by 6 months and completely
independent at 9 months. They probably start
breeding at the end of their second year, and can
live up to 8 years in the wild.
Tasmanian devil numbers
were once controlled by food availability,
competition with other devils and quolls, loss of
habitat, persecution, and roadkills. Since the
1990's, however, the single greatest threat to
the devil is a form of cancer that has killed up
to 90 per cent of some local populations. The
Tasmanian government has placed the devil on the
genus & species Sarcophilus harrisii
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sarcophilus_harrisii/
National Geographic http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/tasmanian-devil/
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