The world’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, the Tasmanian devil, has become an Australian icon and a national treasure. It has products and sporting teams named after it. Captive devils in zoos have also been named after famous Australians. A Tasmanian devil in Perth’s zoo was named after Australian comedian Frank Woodley.
Tassie devils are shy; they have dark brown to soft black fur and a distinctive white stripe. They release harrowing screeches and if you are lucky enough to hear a Tassie devil screeching, you’ll also get a glimpse of its sharp teeth. Even though they have appalling table manners, visitors flock from around the world to Tasmania for a close encounter with these creatures.
Devils were not always so revered. Actually, they were almost hunted to extinction. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about this endangered Australian marsupial.
1-The Tasmanian Devil was nearly called Satan’s Flesh Eater
The Latin scientific name for the Tasmanian devil is Sarcophilus harrisii. It means Harris’s meat lover.
Lt George Harris was the general surveyor for Van Diemen’s Land colony (later to be called Tasmania) and an amateur naturalist who described the devil in detail in 1807. Thankfully, the other name suggested, Sarcophilus satanicus or Satan’s flesh eater was disqualified.
Early European settlers feared that the animal, with its savage sounds and temper, could quickly turn to rage like Satan. This is most likely where the “devil” tag came from.
Actually, the Tassie devil displays these fierce and frightening lunging and teeth-baring along with its ferocious growling when it feels threatened, competing for a mate or protecting its dinner. Much like some humans we know!
2-Tasmanian devils can rip apart an iPad in a flash
Tasmanian devils reach adulthood around two years of age. They have 42 teeth set in their powerful jaw. The teeth are like a hyenas and are perfect for their unique scavenging carnivorous diet. Their bite has been likened to that of a maned wolf.
In fact, they are said to have one of the strongest bites per body mass of any land predator. Their jaws strong enough to gnaw through a metal trap. They need these strong teeth and jaws to pull apart their meal and crunch through bones and fur. They consume up to 10% of their body weight in a day.
As they age, their teeth wear and fall out, making feeding more difficult.
The rule of thumb is when you see a Tasmanian devil feeding, watch from afar. They are generally timid and won’t bite but if they think you want some of their meal they will assertively defend their dinner.
Tracey Lane, park manager and senior keeper at Wings Wildlife Park says meat is not all their strong jaws will demolish.
‘We had a fellow one day who dropped his mobile phone over the fence while trying to get a photo. The devils pounced on it and ripped it to shreds. We got it back for him – in lots of little pieces – and he then proclaimed it was going to be framed for his pool room as it was the best souvenir he’d ever received. On another occasion, a lady dropped her iPad while filming and again the Devils dragged it across the grassed enclosure. We got it back intact and she had awesome close-up footage of their teeth and noses as they continued pressing the play button on and off.’
3-Looney Tunes character Taz was in a Scooby Doo movie
The Tasmanian devil became famous worldwide when American animator, illustrator and director for Warner Brothers Sir Robert Porter “Bob” McKimson, based his ‘Looney Tunes’ character Taz on the Tassie devil.
Taz also made several cameo appearances, including one as himself in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. After drinking a potion, Scooby turns into Taz.
4-Tasmanian devils once lived on mainland Australia
Tasmanian devils once occupied mainland Australia but history shows evidence they became extinct on the mainland some 400 years ago.
Their home now is Tasmania, where they prefer to live anywhere they can hide and find shelter by day and food at night. Roadkill is a favourite source of food.
5-Female Tasmanian devils are attracted to pink and purple
The female Tasmanian devil can give birth to between 25 and 50 young after a gestation period of around 21 days. However in her warm, dry pouch she has only four teats. It’s a race of the fittest for these hairless bubs, the size of a grain of rice, to see who can be the first to attach and secure a chance of survival.
Tracey Lane believes females may like the colours of pink and purple when preparing their den.
‘It was a couple of summers ago and we had people camping here. One night we had people complaining of lost shoes. Missing was one purple croc and one pink thong (footwear not underwear),’ she adds with a giggle.
‘The lady that had lost the purple croc was quite upset. She’d travelled around Australia with this footwear and she stayed for another week to search for her shoe. Unfortunately for her it’s never been seen since.’
5 Places to See the Tasmanian devil
15 healthy Tasmanian devils were introduced onto Maria Island in 2012. The island, which is a national park, had previously been devil-free. Since then a further 28 Tasmanian devils have been released onto Maria Island over two years and they are now breeding successfully.
2-Wings Wildlife Park
Wings Wildlife Park is Tasmania’s largest wildlife park. Situated south of Ulverstone in northern Tasmania, the family-run park offers an opportunity to get close to resident Tasmanian devils. Feeding time is fabulous for photo opportunities.
3-Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary
Visit Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, north of Hobart for a wonderful face-to-face encounter with Tasmania’s unique wildlife. Along with the devils you can see bettongs, pademelons, tawny frogmouth owls, eastern quolls and golden possums. The sanctuary has bred Tasmanian devils for more than 20 years.
Covering 477,000ha of wilderness, Tasmania’s Tarkine is a playground for Tasmanian devils. You are often likely to see devil pups playing if you visit in spring. At night you’ll often spot them foraging on roadkill.
5-Tasmania Devil Conservation Park
Situated on the Tasman Peninsula at Taranna, on the main highway to Port Arthur, is the Tasmania Devil Conservation Park.
You will learn about the precious devils during the presentations and at feeding times. Your entry tickets and purchases at the gift shop will help fund their conservation.
How to Become a Devil Worshipper
The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, is co-ordinated by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE). The dedicated team works on saving the Tasmanian Devil from its newest threat, a rare infectious cancer called Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD).
The program is an initiative of the Tasmanian and Australian Governments. The aim is to see the devils once again thriving in the wilds of Tasmania.
Programme activities include monitoring populations, disease diagnosis, establishing methods for managing the horrendous disease in the wild and building a healthy population unaffected by DFTD.
You can help by making a donation, running a fundraiser, sponsoring an event, using products and services of organisations already supporting the initiative and becoming a partner or volunteer.