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The Tasmanian Devil – A Big Bite In A Little Body

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When you think of marsupials, you probably imagine cute and cuddly ones like a baby joey in its mother’s pouch. Or a cuddly koala bear, eating eucalyptus leaves all night. Maybe you think of the daring sugar gliders or the absolute lovable quokka! But this week’s animal of the week is another marsupial, one that packs one heck of a bite in a compact package! That’s right, it’s the fierce little marsupial from the Australian island of Tasmania – the Tasmanian devil!

The Tasmanian devil is only the size of a small dog, but they have large heads and massive jaws that gives them the strongest bite relative to size of any mammal! They’re also the largest carnivorous marsupial alive. The Tasmanian devil got its name for its hellish shrieks that fill the night air on Tasmania, but their numbers have dwindled greatly over the past 30 years. In fact, they are endangered and on the verge of going extinct in the wild.

Are Tasmanian Devils Dangerous?

Tasmanian devils don’t attack humans unless cornered or defending themselves, but they’d rather just run away. They prefer to eat dead animals, but are capable hunters. They have a powerful bite and can run up to 15 mph. As juveniles, they use their sharp claws to climb trees and eat birds eggs, grubs, and other invertebrates. They hunt other mammals and marsupials if they can catch them, but prefer a nice roadkill or the left behind carcass from another predator. Although they aren’t aggressive to humans, it’s best to avoid them in the wild because their bite causes serious damage.

What Is Causing The Tasmanian Devil To Become Extinct?

The Tasmanian devil was once found across mainland Australia. Biologists believe that the wild dingos hunted them to extinction there. Although some people do kill them out of superstition, their primary threat is a disease unique to their species – Devil Facial tumor Disease. It’s a transmittable disease that spreads through their body like cancer and shows itself as tumors on the devil’s face. Since the diseases discovery in 1996, it has eradicated 95% of the species. Experts believe it is spread through the sharing of meals, a common practice in devil society. It can also be spread when one devil eats another, another common practice in devil society.

Why Are Tasmanian Devils Important?

The Tasmanian devil is an important predator in the local food chain. It helps keep other predator populations like foxes and feral cats in check. They’re known to eat snakes, lizards, smaller marsupials, and clean up a lot of the dead animals they find because they eat the whole animal, fur, skin, and bones.

What’s That Smell?

Tasmanian devils prefer to fill themselves up on the carcasses of dead animals, much like a vulture. However, unlike the vulture, the Tasmanian devil likes to start from inside the gut, and crawl inside the carcass and work its way out. It’s for this reason that the Tasmanian devils tend to have a pungent odor that is usually recognizable before they’re seen. Gross! That definitely doesn’t help them and their devilish reputation.