Australian Animal Archive

Tasmanian Devil.
Sarcophilus harrisii.
(ha'-ris-ee-ee: "Harris's Flesh Lover")

Status: Abundant.

Named after G.P.R. Harris, who discovered the species.

Australian Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian Devil is Australia's largest carnivorous marsupial. Their ferocious, but somewhat undeserved, reputation arises partly from the competition of group feeding. Although the Tasmanian Devil is a solitary and shy animal, and their reputation for being ferocious arises from when a group of 20 or more animals compete for the best body parts of a carcass. The Devils will shove, snarl, shriek and aggressively display their large teeth. Heavy scarring on older animals indicate the powerful jaws and long teeth are sometimes used against each other in battle.

Tasmanian Devils typically forage at night, scavenging or hunting vertebrates, particularly mammals, which they pursue with an unrelenting lope before pouncing.

The teeth of the Tasmanian Devil can easily inflict lethal bites and in combination with their strong jaws allows the Tasmanian Devil to dispose of every morsel of its prey, including its bones.

One of the unusual behaviours of the Tasmanian Devil is the way they devour the carcass of larger mammals. They consume the carcass of larger mammals from the inside out. There is always something a little unnerving when seeing a dead wombat carcass heaving and bulging as a Tasmanian Devil emerges from the inside the carcass covered in gore.

Mating takes place in March and April. The female Tasmanian Devil has four teats in a well developed backward-directed pouch and suckles several young in her pouch for about 15 weeks. Once infant Devils leave the mothers pouch they are left in well concealed dens, usually burrows or hollow logs, and by November are starting to explore the world outside of the den.

Juvenile Devils are weaned onto flesh at about 8 months of age and soon after disperse to form new home ranges. Early independence is a dangerous time for young Tasmanian Devils and only half may survive during their first year, many losing out in competition for food to the more mature Tasmanian Devils.

Somewhat dog like in appearance, stocky with a long broad head and powerful jaws
and large teeth. Black in colour with a white patch on their chest.
Dry forest areas with open grassy areas that attract small mammals.
Nocturnal and is most active several hours after sunset.
Usually hunts alone, returning to its den during the daylight hours.
Climbs well and forages along roadways and tidelines.
Mating occurs during March.
Of several young born in April, usually only 2 - 3 will survive to leave the pouch in August.
Hunts small to medium size mammals, including weak or juvenile wallabies, possums
and wombats. Also eats birds and insect larvae.
Usually silent, although aggression with rivals when feeding often includes low warning growls,
yells, and ear shattering shrieks.

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