The fascinating Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous, semi-nocturnal creature, whose aggressive nature and wild hissing, growling and screaming earned it the name.The Tasmanian devil is a marsupial, related to koalas and kangaroos. It is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, reaching 76 centimeters (30 inches) in length and weighing up to 12 kilograms (26 pounds), although its size will vary widely depending on its specific range and the availability of food.
Body of Tasmanian devil is covered with black fur, with white patches on the chest, shoulders and rump. Tasmanian devil has large head and very strong jaw. It has one of the strongest bites in the animal world; 84 kilogram per square centimeter (1200 pounds per square inch), which means that it can bite through the metal trap.
While devils are usually solitary, their excellent noses will often lead several of them to the same carcass at once, and communal feeding is rather common. Tasmanian devils can take prey up to the size of a small kangaroo, but in practice they are opportunistic and eat carrion more often than they hunt live prey. As scavengers, devils also help their habitat by eating most anything lying around, no matter how old or rotten. When Tasmanian devils do prey, they hunt mainly small animals, including birds, lizards, insects and other marsupials, such as wallabies.
On average, devils eat about 15% of their body weight each day, although they can eat up to 40% of their body weight in 30 minutes if the opportunity arises. They store extra fat in their tails. Curious and energetic, Tasmanian devils travel long distances each night in their pursuit of food, sometimes covering as much as 16 kilometers (10 miles).
Tasmanian devils’ breeding season lasts from March to May. Tasmanian devil mothers have a gestation period of three weeks. Like all marsupials, Tasmanian devil mothers give birth to very tiny young (about the size of a raisin). Once born, the babies called imps crawl up the mother’s fur and into her pouch. She will have up to 50 young at once, but only a maximum of 4 survive in the pouch. Babies stay in their pouch for four months. When they emerge from the pouch, the imps often ride on their mother’s back, like young koalas, or stay in the den while she hunts. After about six months old, the young are weaned, becoming independent at around nine months.
Threats to Tasmanian devils include attacks by domestic dogs and foxes, being hit by cars, loss of habitat, and disease. In the 1990s, the total Tasmanian devil population was estimated at 130,000 to 150,000. However, the population has been in continual rapid decline since then. Tragically, since the mid-1990s, a catastrophic disease has killed thousands of Tasmanian devils. Called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD), this fatal condition is a rare contagious cancer that causes lumps to form around the animal’s mouth and head, making it hard for it to eat. Scientists are working hard to find a way to stop the spread of DFTD before it wipes the species out.