What is a Tasmanian Devil?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial that makes its home in Tasmania. They have a reputation as fierce fighters, which they partially deserve, as the males frequently fight for territory or mating rights. They are also prolific hunters, usually employing a pack hunting strategy to bring down larger prey. The first immigrants to Tasmania felt the Tasmanian devils were a particular nuisance since they would kill sheep. They were also alarmed by the loud screams and grunts the animals exhibited when eating, fighting or killing prey.

Rats are prey to the Tasmanian Devil.
Rats are prey to the Tasmanian Devil.

The Tasmanian devil is not particularly large. Adults may weigh about 15 pounds (6.8 kg), and be about 2 feet (60.96 cm) long. Birth weight, conversely is tiny. The average newborn devil is about the size of a grain of rice. The Tasmanian devil is usually dark black in color, though may have some markings of white around the neck. Their prominent noses give them an excellent sense of smell, which is ideal for hunting and tracking prey. Additionally, they are quite stocky in body, with powerful limbs and very sharp teeth.

The tasmanian devil got its name in part because it often killed the sheep that were owned by the first immigrants to Tasmania.
The tasmanian devil got its name in part because it often killed the sheep that were owned by the first immigrants to Tasmania.

The average life span of the Tasmanian devil is about 8 years. Only about 40% will survive to age one, possibly due in part to the fact that Tasmanian devil litters are huge. They can have up to 50 babies in one litter, but only four of the litter will survive. The new babies will struggle to reach the pouch and attach to on of the mother’s four teats. The attached babies will survive, and the rest are simply left to die. Like Kangaroos, the baby devil is called a joey.

Mothers care for the joeys for about 6 months before they are weaned and sent away from the mother’s habitat. Younger devils are more agile than their older counterparts, and are particularly adept at climbing trees. This can be the saving grace from their major predators, domestic dogs, and other adult Tasmanian devils.

Tasmanian devils are nocturnal hunters, and even those who dislike them, must agree that they perform an important function by keeping down the number of rats and mice in the area. They are closely related to the quoll, which also lives on Tasmania, but the quoll has a better reputation and is not considered quite so vicious. In fact the Tasmanian devil is not really vicious, but its growls and shrieks are somewhat disturbing, while the quoll hunts rather quietly, and so is often preferred.

The Tasmanian devil is called a gorge feeder as it consumes huge amounts of food at one sitting, and is known for eating virtually anything it comes across, no matter how old or rotten. Devils are sometimes called carnivorous vacuum cleaners because they tend to clear areas of skeletons, animal carcasses and garbage. In fact they prefer eating things easily obtained like dead animals, to hunting animals for themselves.

Since the Tasmanian devil does keep down rodent populations, they have been allowed to thrive and are now the representative animal for the Parks and Wildlife Services of Tasmania. Though the population is doing well, a new disease, called Devil Wasting Facial Disease, which has begun causing the deaths of young adult devils. Currently researchers are investigating the cause of this disease in hopes of its elimination so the Tasmanian devil will continue to thrive.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


the people in tasmania stopped hunting the devils because they were protected by law in 1941 and is currently listed as an endangered species.


why do you think e people in Tasmania stopped

hunting and trapping all the Tasmanian devils?

Tasmanian devil are solitary animals -- they live by thmselves. How does this help them survive?


They are part of the marsupial group.


Good Question.

The Tasmanian devil is classed as the following:

Class: Mammalia

Infraclass: Marsupialia

Order: Dasyuromorphia

Family: Dasyuridae

Genus: Sacrophilus

Species S. harrisii


what family group is it in?

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