150. Tasmanian Devil.


The Tasmanian devil is not a devil at all–as the name may suggest. It is the largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Often it is simply called “The Devil”. It is the size of a small dog, but it is built stocky and muscular.

It has a large head and a tail which is about half the length of its body. The devil stores body fat in its tail. The famished and unhealthy devils often have thin tails.

Unlike the other marsupials, it has forelegs slightly longer than its hind legs. Devils can dash at the speed of 13 km per hour, over short distances. Their fur is usually black, but irregular white patches are quite common.

Males are usually larger than females, with an average head and body length of 25 inches, 10 inches long tail and weigh 8 kg. Females have an average head and body length of 22 inches, nine and half inches long tail, and weigh 6 kg.

The Tasmanian devil lives for six year in the wild, but longer in captivity. The devil has long whiskers on its face and in clumps on the top of the head. These help the devil locate prey when foraging in the dark and in detecting when other devils are close during feeding.

When agitated, the devil can emanate a strong stench, which will put a skunk to shame! Hearing is its dominant sense but it has an excellent sense of smell. Since devils hunt at night, their vision is excellent in black and white. They can detect moving objects readily, but have difficulty seeing stationary objects.

The devil has the strongest bite among all living mammals. The power of its jaw is due to its large head. A Tasmanian devil also has a set of teeth that keeps growing throughout its life.

Young devils can climb trees, but not when they grow larger and older. Devils can also swim. They are solitary animals and do not form packs like wolves. Devils eat small native mammals, domestic mammals, birds, fish, insects, frogs and reptiles.

Their diet is varied, depending on the food available. They eat about one-sixth of their body weight each day. They can become gluttonous gulpers of two-fifths of their body weight, in a short span of 30 minutes, if they get an opportunity to do so!

Tasmanian Devils devour the bones and fur in addition to the meat and internal organs of a carcass, leaving not even a trace of it! The farmers “Thank the Devils”, which prevent the spread of diseases, that might harm their livestock.

Eating is a social event for the Tasmanian devils. When 12 or more individuals gather to eat, the sound they produce can be heard several miles away! They usually establish dominance by using 11 different vocal sounds, 20 different physical postures and vicious yawns. Adult males are the most aggressive, and scarring is quite common from fighting over meats and mates.

The Tasmanian devil is best known as the inspiration for the Looney Tunes cartoon character The Tasmanian Devil, or “Taz”. Researchers have named a genetic-mutant mouse “The Tasmanian devil”. The mutant mouse is defective in the development of sensory-hair cells of the ear. Result is its abnormal behavior–including head-tossing and circling (more like the cartoon “Taz” than the actual Tasmanian devil).

Visalakshi Ramani

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