Marsupial Mice and Tasmanian Devil Cats: Dasyuridae
Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus Laniarius
Physical characteristics: The Tasmanian devil is a four-footed marsupial with four toes on its two front feet as well as four on its back feet. It does not have a hallux. It has black fur with some white markings, usually on the chest, shoulder, and rump. The Tasmanian devil has a pointed snout that is pinkish at the tip. Its sharp, pointed teeth are good for cutting and tearing meat. It also has flat grinding teeth for crushing the bones of the animals it eats. The ears of the Tasmanian devil are short and pointed and turn red when the animal is angry. Males of this species usually have a head and body length between 20 and 25 inches (50 to 62 centimeters) and weigh between 17 and 29 pounds (8 to 13 kilograms). Females usually have a head and body length between 21 and 22.5 inches (53 to 57 centimeters) and weigh between 10 and 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kilograms).
Geographic range: Tasmanian devils live on Tasmania, a large island off the southeastern Australian coast.
Habitat: The Tasmanian devil lives in the forest. It makes dens using leaves and plant material, although it sometimes sleeps in hollow logs or in the dens of other animals.
Diet: The Tasmanian devil mainly eats the meat of vertebrate animals. It will even eat poisonous snakes, and also occasionally invertebrates or plants. It is mainly a scavenger, and likes to eat animals that have already been killed by other causes. A scientist who studied the Tasmanian devil found that its favorite foods were wallabies, wombats, sheep, and rabbits. Most of these animals were not hunted by the Tasmanian devil itself, but eaten after other animals, cars, or natural causes killed them. The Tasmanian devil makes use of all the parts of animals that it kills or finds, eating even the bones and fur.
Behavior and reproduction: The Tasmanian devil is nocturnal, meaning that it hunts and is active mainly at night. When Tasmanian devils feel threatened or are fighting, they can be very loud. They begin by growling softly, but become increasingly louder and can even make horrible screeching noises. Most mating occurs in February or March. Females are pregnant for about one month and then give birth to young that move into the mother's pouch and attach to her nipples. Female Tasmanian devils have four nipples, which means that four is the most young that can be supported while they develop. Tasmanian devils normally have two or four babies at a time.
Tasmanian devils and people: Most contact between humans and the Tasmanian devil has occurred because the Tasmanian devil may eat animals that farmers keep as livestock. The Tasmanian devil will eat chickens if the coops are not well protected, and also sheep and lambs. Farmers sometimes kill Tasmanian devils to keep them away from their livestock.
Conservation status: The Tasmanian devil used to live all over Australia, but now lives only in Tasmania. Scientists believe that this species disappeared from the Australian mainland because it had to compete with the dingo, a wild dog that is introduced, not a native species. There is no information on how many Tasmanian devils are left in the wild in Tasmania, but it is likely that they are being affected by the clearing of land for agriculture. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Fenton, Julie A. Kangaroos and Other Marsupials. Chicago: World Book, 2000.
Hoare, Ben, ed. International Wildlife Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2002.
Nowak, Ronald M., ed. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th ed. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Woods, Samuel G. Sorting Out Mammals: Everything You Want to Know About Marsupials, Carnivores, Herbivores, and More! Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Marketing, 1999.
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water & Environment. Tasmanian Devil. http://www.dpiwe.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/BHAN-5358KH?open (accessed on June 30, 2004).
"The Amazing Marsupials." Australian Ark Documentary Series. Columbia Tristar, 1994.
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