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Tasmanian Devil

Sarcophilus harrisii

Description

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.

Tasmanian Devil

Distribution and Habitat

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.

Diet

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.

Reproduction

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.

Conservation

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 endangered list.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Mammalia
order Dasyuromorphia
family Dasyuridae
genus & species Sarcophilus harrisii

SOURCES
Animal Diversity Web animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sarcophilus_harrisii/
National Geographic animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/tasmanian-devil/

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The Robinson Library >> Science >> Zoology >> Mammals >> Order Dasyuromorphia

This page was last updated on June 14, 2017.