Friday, October 22, 2010

Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a frequently misunderstood, yet absolutely fascinating animal. They are the largest of the carnivorous marsupials (of which there are very few species) and are now located only on the island of Tasmania. Devils once had a range that encompassed all of Australia, but the spread of the Dingos led to competition for food. Because Tasmania is separated from Australia by the 150mile wide Bass strait, Dingos never crossed and the Devils continued to exist there.

(Image Source)
Of course, their Tasmanian existence was thanks in no part to humans, who killed off the animals, thinking (erroneously) that they were a threat to their livestock. They became a protected species in 1941, but the population is now far from genetically diverse. Tasmanian Devils grow to 30 inches long and weigh around 25lbs.

Tasmanian Devils were so named for their crabby, aggressive behavior (especially around food and mating time) and the absolutely bizarre sounds that they make. They are solitary, non-monogamous, nocturnal animals, and live in burrows. Devils eat a wide variety of other creatures, though they typically only hunt things that are smaller than themselves. They also consume carrion, and thanks to their powerful teeth and jaws, are able to completely consume an animal. Devils are at their most aggressive when feeding, as it is a time that the normally solitary creatures come together and (attempt to) share a meal.
(Image Source)

As previously stated, Tasmanian Devils are marsupials. Females are pregnant for an extremely short amount of time, and will give birth to a few dozen raisin-sized infants. Unfortunately, the female only has four teats, and so only the first four young to make it into her pouch will have any chance of survival. The young will latch on and remain in the pouch for several months. They will come out of the pouch at about four months and be weaned by six.

Wild Devil populations are now experiencing a horrific epidemic that is wiping out the species. Devil Facial Tumor Disease is a contagious cancer that causes larger tumors to form on their heads, making them unable to eat. It is believed that the disease is able to spread so easily because of the lack of genetic diversity within the population. DFTD free populations are being quarantined and captive breeding programs are trying to keep the species going to prevent extinction.

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