Five fascinating facts about the Tasmanian devil

Devil by name, but not so much by nature. Here, we uncover some fun and interesting truths about Tasmania’s renowned marsupial…

Jessica Reid
13 November 2023

The Tasmanian devil is one of the world’s most misunderstood critters. Despite its name and ferocious reputation – mostly due to the Looney Tunes animated character nicknamed ‘Taz’ – there’s so much more to Tasmania’s most iconic animal than you may think.

Here are five fascinating facts about the mysterious mammal. 

1. Tasmanian devils were once found in abundance across mainland Australia

Tasmanian devils now live in Tasmania’s dry forests (Alamy)

Although now only found on the island of Tasmania, the Tasmanian devil was once prevalent across mainland Australia. It became extinct approximately 3,500 years ago – before settlers came from Europe – due to being hunted by dingoes. They remain living in the dry forests and coastal scrublands of Tasmania, where there are no wild dogs or predators to threaten them.

Tasmanian devils are beginning to be reintroduced back onto the mainland in efforts to restore some of the country’s natural biodiversity, with the first babies being born in a wildlife sanctuary earlier this year.

2. They are marsupials

Like other marsupials, Tasmanian devils store fat in their tails (Shutterstock)

Like many species endemic to Australia, Tasmanian devils are marsupials. When their babies are born, they are about the same size as a grain of rice and will be carried for up to four months in their mother’s pouch. Unlike kangaroos, a Tasmanian devil’s pouch opens at the bottom to keep out any dirt.  

Another characteristic of a marsupial is that they store fat in their tails. So the plumper the tail of a Tasmanian devil, the better fed and healthier the animal is.  

Tasmanian devils are also the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials.

3. They are meat-eaters, with a very strong bite

A bite from a Tasmanian devil is strong enough to break metal (Alamy)

Tasmanian devils are known to eat most things that come their way, including wallabies, wombats, rabbits, birds and snakes. They have extremely large and powerful jaws, so can munch their way through an entire carcass – even the bones – and have been known to bite their way out of metal cages.

That said, they are not considered a threat to humans, and would much rather run away than put up a fight – unless attacked or provoked.

4. They’re good at hiding – but will scream if they’re found

Tasmanian devils’ dark fur means they are good at blending in at night (Shutterstock)

The word elusive is often used to describe the Tasmanian devil. That’s because they’re actually quite shy and like to hide away during the day (they are nocturnal) in their underground burrows. At night, their dark fur allows them to stay camouflaged as they explore and look to feed. 

But you’ll definitely know about it if you’re nearby and another animal does manage to find them. Tasmanian devils let out screams, screeches, and growls when they believe to be under threat – the range of vocals are certainly enough to scare any creature from going near them again.

5. They are endangered

There are conservation projects in place to ensure the future of the Tasmanian devil (Shutterstock)

Sadly, there are thought to be only 25,000 Tasmanian devils left roaming the wild and they were listed as endangered in 2008. In the 1900s, humans believed them to be a threat to their livestock and they were hunted and killed, until they became protected in 1941. The species has struggled to recover mainly due to a contagious disease causing their numbers to decline further.

Luckily, there are scientists working hard to find a cure, as well as conservation projects in place in Tasmania. Devils @ Cradle is a Tasmanian devil sanctuary on the edge of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, and conducts on-site breeding and conservation programs to ensure the animal’s future survival in the wild. Visitors are welcome to join educational tours and learn about the life and habits of the island’s most renowned critter.  

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