Tasmanian Devil

Scientific Name: Sarcophilus harrisii

IUCN Conservation Status: Endangered

 

The Tasmanian devil plays an important role in the Tasmanian ecosystem as a top order predator, protecting many smaller mammal species from the invasion and threat of foxes and cats. They help keep the balance right! A range of species including Brush-tailed Bettongs, Eastern quolls, Spotted-tail quolls, Eastern-barred bandicoot rely on the devil to perform its ecological function.

 

However, 90% of the species have been lost due to a fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), an infectious cancer that only affects Tasmanian devils. DFTD is transmitted through biting, fighting and mating and is one of the only cancers known to spread as a contagious disease.

 

There is no vaccine, and no cure and the Tasmanian devil will go extinct if the disease spreads and population decline trends continue. Hence the need and urgency, to create a viable, insurance population which is the work we have done for the past 6 years at Devil Ark.

Description

The Tasmanian devil is a unique animal, distinguished between individuals through its distinct white markings on its body. It is about as large as a medium-sized built dog. They are black all over with white marks usually on the chest, and sometimes on the rump as well.

 

The Tasmanian devil typically weighs between 8 – 14 kg (males) or 5 – 9 kg (females) and their body length varies from 57 cm in females to around 65 cm for males. Tasmanian Devils are scavengers rather than hunters and prefer carrion as a result of roadkill or predated by other species. Their food preferences are kangaroos, wallabies, possums and wombats. As devils age, they lose hair down the back of the body and along the tail. Hair loss is a natural ageing process, as it is in a lot of mammal species.

 

Habitat

The Tasmanian devil is endemic to Tasmania and is found throughout the island. Tasmanian Devils are found in a wide range of habitats but prefer open forests and woodlands. They live in coastal heath, open dry sclerophyll forest, and mixed sclerophyll rainforest – in fact, almost anywhere they can hide and find shelter by day, and find food at night.

 

Diet and Behaviour

Tasmanian Devils are scavengers rather than hunters and prefer carrion such as roadkill. They love roaming considerable distances, up to 16 km in search of food. Their food preferences are kangaroos, wallabies, possums and wombats.

 

The Tasmanian devil is nocturnal. During the day they usually hide in a den. Young Tasmanian devils are more agile and can climb trees. Although not territorial, Tasmanian devils have a home range of up to 20 km2.

When Tasmanian devils yawn or gape often misconstrued as being threatening, it is actually a display of their fear and uncertainty rather than a form of aggression.

 

Reproduction

At 2 years old, tassie devils are considered adults and sexually reproductive.

Young joeys grow very quickly, leaving their mother at around 10 months of age. When born, the foetuses are the size of a grain of rice, around 1cm, furless and completely pink. The mother can produce around as many as 50 foetuses but only the first four who are able to latch onto the mother’s teat will survive.

 

 

The Tasmanian devil has a very short lifespan. In the wild, a healthy, disease-free devil can live up to 5-6 years old, in captivity they may live up to 8 years. With such a short generation time and complex reproductive cycle, it makes it even more crucial to ensure we create an insurance population quickly to avoid the possibility of extinction in the wild

 

Threats

  • Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation
  • Road fatalities from vehicle strikes

Aussie Ark Devil Ark Program

For more information about the Tasmanian Devil, please visit our dedicated Devil Ark website.

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