About

Tasmanian Devil
(Sarcophilus harrisii)

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:
    Animalia
  • Phylum:
    Chordata
  • Class:
    Mammalia
  • Infraclass:
    Marsupialia
  • Order:
    Dasyuromorphia
  • Family:
    Dasyuridae
  • Genus:
    Sarcophilus
  • Species:
    Sarcophilus harrisii
  • Binomial name:
    Sarcophilus harrisii

Appearance

The Tasmanian Devil is roughly the size of a small dog, with a stocky, muscular build.

They have a relatively large, broad head and a short, thick tail. The fur is predominantly or entirely black, and many (but not all) Devils have white markings on the chest or rump.

Body size varies greatly, depending on diet and habitat, though adult males are usually larger than adult females. Large males can weigh up to 12 kg, and stand about 30 cm high at the shoulder. A typical adult female would weight about 7 or 8 kg.

Description

The Tasmanian Devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, following the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) in 1936.

Devils are nocturnal (night) and crepuscular (twilight) hunters, typically spending the day in dense bush or burrows. They need to eat roughly 15% of their body weight each day, although they can eat up to 40% of their body weight in just 30 minutes, given the opportunity.

Devils have incredibly strong jaws, with the biting power of a dog about 4 times their weight.

While Devils could take on prey up to the size of a small kangaroo, in practice they are more opportunistic eaters and will dine on carrion (flesh of dead animals) more often than hunting for live prey.

Their diet is varied and depends on the food available to them. Devils will eat just about anything, including: small native mammals, domestic mammals (typically only very young, injured or incapacitated livestock), birds, fish, fruit, vegetable matter, insects, tadpoles, frogs and reptiles. Devils are particularly fond of wombats, due to the ease of predation and the high fat content.

Habitat

The Tasmanian Devil is now found in the wild only on the island state of Tasmania (formerly known as Van Diemen’s Land).

Devils once roamed mainland Australia as well, with fossils having been found widely across the mainland. It is believed that the Devil became extinct on the mainland some 400 years ago, surviving only in Tasmania.

Due to the profound impact of the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), an ‘insurance population’ of healthy Tasmanian Devils is being established through the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program. This has included translocation of a population of Tasmanian Devils to Maria Island.

Find out more

For more information, check out this excellent guide produced by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (Tasmania): Tasmanian Devils FAQs.