|Common throughout their range, the Tasmanian Devil is the largest of the surviving Australian carnivorous marsupials. It belies its fierce appearance and awesome name, being primarily a carrion-eater which has difficulty in killing a rat and is itself easily killed by a dog. While its preferred habitat appears to be coastal scrub and sclerophyll forest, it is now found in all Tasmanian habitats, including outer suburbs.|
Although the Tasmanian Devil will eat any material of animal origin, ranging from corbie grubs to mammals larger than itself, it is particularly attracted by carrion. With its powerful jaws and sharp sectorial teeth, it can consume every part of a dead kangaroo or sheep including the skull. Much of its reputation as a sheep-killer is based on its having been seen eating sheep that died from natural causes but it is known to take weak or cast lambs. Penned poultry are certainly attacked and a young Tasmanian Devil, which is more agile than the adult, will scramble on bushes to take native birds at roost.
|It is not uncommon for more than one animal to feed on a carcass - up to twelve have been observed. Such circumstances lead to squabbling and to a range of vocalisations ranging from champing of the jaws to indicate mild aggression, through a series of growls, to yells which end in a scream, the widely gaping jaws of the aggressor being placed close to the rival. Physical conflict is not usual. Females, which are smaller than males, have 4 nipples in a backwardly opening pouch.|
|There is remarkably little loss of pouch young but a heavy juvenile mortality. The maximum known age is 7-8 years. Females do not breed until 2 years old, usually rearing 2 young in the first year and 3 or 4 annually for the next 3 years. As in some other dasyurids, the number of embryos carried in the uterus is in excess of the number of nipples.|
Provided human 'control' measures are limited, the species is secure in Tasmania and it is probable that, overall, it has increased in numbers since European settlement, due to increased availability of carrion, and, perhaps, increased availability of corbie grubs because of agricultural activity.
Long prior to the advent of Europeans, the species was widespread on the Australian mainland and sub-fossil remains as recent as 600 years old have been found in western Victoria. It seems likely that, like the Thylacine, it was ousted by the Dingo which, fortunately, did not reach Tasmania.
'Complete Book of Australian Mammals' - Australian Museum, 1983.
Australia's Wilderness Heritage - Flora & Fauna, 1988.
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