Tasmanian Devil

Sarcophilus harrisii

Sarcophilus harrisii

The world’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, the devil has a thickset, squat build, with a relatively large, broad head and short, thick tail.  The fur is mostly or wholly black, but white markings often occur on the rump and chest.  Body size also varies greatly, depending on the diet and habitat.  Adult males are usually larger than adult females.  Large males weigh up to 12 kg, and stand about 30 cm high at the shoulder.  Life span is 7-8 years.

Breeding

Mating usually occurs in March.  More young are born than can be accommodated in the mother’s backward-opening pouch, which has 4 teats.  Although 4 pouch young sometimes survive, the average number is 2 or 3.  Each young, firmly attached to a teat, is carried in the pouch for about 4 months.  Young are weaned at 5 or 6 months.  Gestation period is 21 days.

Behaviour

Nocturnal.  During the day it usually hides in a den, or dense bush.  It roams considerable distances – up to 16 km – along well-defined trails in search of food.  It usually ambles slowly with a characteristic gait, but can gallop quickly with both hind feet together.  Although not territorial, devils have a home range.  When under stress, produce a strong odour; when calm and relaxed are not smelly.  Makes a variety of fierce noises, from harsh coughs and snarls to high pitched screeches.

Diet

Mainly a scavenger and feeds on whatever is available - wallabies and various small mammals and birds, either as carrion (dead animals/road kill) or prey.  Reptiles, amphibians, insects and even sea squirts have been found in the stomachs of devils.  Carcasses of sheep and cattle provide food.  Devils maintain bush and farm hygiene by cleaning up entire carcasses (inclusive bones, feathers, fur, etc.)

Status

Wholly protected, threatened.