Tasmanian Devil

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Taxonomy

FamilyDasyuridaeDasyurids – carnivorous marsupialsteeth are for biting and cutting
GenusSarcophilussarco– flesh -philus lover
Speciesharrisii 
Common Names Tasmanian devil, native devil
Nearest Relatives native cats

Characteristics

General

  • largest of the surviving carnivorous marsupials

Distribution

  • Tasmania; also existed on the Australian mainland before the arrival of the dingo – bones have been found in Victoria and in Arnhem Land

Habitat

  • dry eucalypt forests and woodlands of Tasmania; also seen around the suburbs

Appearance

  • thickset, heavy, and powerful; massive head relative to the body size, powerful jaws and strong teeth for crunching bones
  • males 9kg (20lbs), 65cm (25in) head and body length; tail about 25cm (10in)
  • females are smaller but similar in appearance

Voice

  • uses vocal repertoire to signal level of displeasure ranging from champing of the jaws to indicate mild aggression through a range of growls culminating in yells that end in a blood-curdling scream with widely-gaping jaws close to the rival

Disposition

  • somewhat belligerent, wary
  • fight and squabble among themselves; often older animals are scarred from these encounters

Lifestyle

  • nocturnal, spend the day in a hollow log, cave, burrow
  • a home range of 10-20 ha but not territorial; home ranges usually overlap
  • can climb trees
  • mortality rates: little loss of pouch young; high juvenile mortality
    live for about 6 years

Senses

  • acute sense of smell

Locomotion

  • run on all 4 legs with elevated tail; awkward slow lope not exceeding 13km/hr

Feeding

  • generally hunt alone; can travel 8km (5mile) a night
  • mainly scavenge carcasses – beached fishes, cows etc; large carcasses may attract up to 6 devils
  • carnivorous taking possums, wallabies, wombats; young sometimes take sleeping birds; will eat any material of animal origin

Reproduction

  • mate in March (autumn)
  • gestation period of 3-4 weeks
  • marsupials => female has a backward-opening pouch; usually produce litters of up to 4
  • female carries the young in the pouch for about 15 weeks when they are left in a grass-lined den; they are fully furred by this time; lactation continues for another 15 weeks
  • young start leaving the den in November and by February they are weaned and independent
  • males disperse from their natal home range
  • females can breed at around 2 years

References – books

  • Australia’s Amazing Wildlife, 1985. Bay Books, Kensington NSW.
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife, Readers Digest Australia Pty Ltd, 1997. Readers Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Surrey Hills.
  • Complete Book Of Australian Mammals, R Strahan (ed), 1983. Angus & Robertson Publishers, London.
  • Wildlife Conservation. HJ Frith. 1979. Angus & Robertson Publishers, London.

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