Tasmanian devil

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Two Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus laniurus), Featherdale Wildlife Park, New South Wales, Australia .
© WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT

The largest carnivorous marsupial

What
The Tasmanian devil cannot be mistaken for any other marsupial. Its spine-chilling screeches, black colour, and reputed bad-temper, led the early European settlers to call it 'the devil'. Although only the size of a small dog, it can sound and look incredibly fierce.

Tasmanian devils once occurred on mainland Australia, with fossils having been found widely. Today, however, it is only found in Tasmania.

About
The world's largest carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil has a thick-set, 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.

The Tasmanian devil is mainly a scavenger and feeds on whatever is available. Powerful jaws and teeth enable it to completely devour its prey - bones, fur and all. It hunts prey of varied sizes, from insects to possums and wallabies, as well as scavenging. Nocturnal, it screeches or barks and rears up if alarmed.

Why
The famous gape or yawn of the devil that looks so threatening can be misleading. This display is performed more from fear and uncertainty than from aggression. Devils produce a strong odour when under stress. The devil makes a variety of fierce noises, from harsh coughs and snarls to high pitched screeches.

The Tasmanian devil is an iconic animal within Australia; it is the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Tasmanian Australian rules football team which plays in the Victorian Football League is known as the Devils. The devil was 1 of 6 native Australian animals to appear on commemorative Australian 200 dollar coins issued between 1989 and 1994. Tasmanian Devils are popular with domestic and international tourists.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild

Today, devils are found in some north, east and central districts where some farming practices (e.g. rangeland sheep grazing) provide much carrion. Tasmanian devils may be seen in many rural and wilderness areas by slowly driving at night along secondary roads. Devils may be seen at the Narawntapu National Park, Mt. William National Park, Cradle Mt. National Park and the Arthur River and highland lakes area.

Because they were seen as a threat to livestock in Tasmania, devils were hunted until 1941, when they became officially protected. Since the late 1990s devil facial tumour disease has reduced the Tasmanian devil population significantly and now threatens the survival of the species. They are currently listed as 'vulnerable' by IUCN.

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