I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devils are good climbers when they're young.

Young Tasmanian Devils are good climbers. These irascible marsupials can be charming. Isn't he cute!

When my friend Anita told me we could tour Tasmania when we visited her and her husband in Australia, I thought:  “Great, I can see some Tasmanian Devils.” 

I told my daughter (she stayed behind) about the itinerary that included these irascible marsupials, and then I added, “The Tasmanian Devils are dying out.”  Just to say that made both of us tear up.  Thousands of types of animals are threatened with extinction, but the devils could be gone in only a few decades.

This Tasmanian Devil looks menacing, but he's just yawning. Devils can get peevish, though, particularly at meal time when they have to share.  Devils have the strongest jaws per size of any mammal and can completely devour their meals, bones, fur and all. They are stellar members of the clean plate club!

This Tasmanian Devil is showing his "vicious yawn," one of 20 identified devil postures. You get a good looks at his jaws and sharp teeth. Devils have the strongest jaws per size of any mammal and can completely devour their meals, bones, fur and all. They are stellar members of the clean plate club!

I’d read a heart-breaking story last year in the New York Times about a terrible infectious cancer (Devil Facial Tumor Disease) that could wipe out the Tasmanian Devil.  Some scientists think the devil population may have dropped 50 percent or even more in the last dozen years.  The disease is transmitted from devil to devil by biting, which the devils do while eating and mating.  It’s no accident that they’re called devils, although they can also be very endearing. (See Harper’s Magazine link below.  It’s a great article.)

Scientists and wildlife experts are trying to find a cure, but so far they haven’t come close.   Wildlife experts also have set aside disease-free areas for the devils to live and reproduce.  The devil only exists in the wild in Tasmania, an island that’s one of the states of Australia. Since the extinction of the Thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian Tiger) in 1936, the Tasmanian Devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.

Study of the devil’s facial tumor is leading to better understanding of the nature of cancer itself.

At the first wildlife park we visited, my first sight of a devil was a sleepy creature in a burrow. 

“Ahhh, so cute!”Tasmanian Devil sticker.

He (or she) and his friends were soon up and chasing each other in a circle and also checking us out.   They gave us the “vicious yawn,” which scientists think means the devil is thinking: “You don’t scare me.”  The devils looked like small, stocky dogs and ran like raccoons.  It wasn’t until the keeper tossed a fleshy bone to three of them, that their cantankerous side appeared.  Their comraderie disappeared, and they grabbed onto the bone and wouldn’t let go.  They made a terrific racket as they ran in circles, all three gripping the meat in their mouths together.  Usually, devils are solitary but will come together when they find something delicious.

See the devils in action below in the YouTube video from the Discovery Channel.

“More Deviltry,” my second post on Tasmanian Devils. Can’t get enough of the Devils!

Harper’s Magazine Story about studying contagious cancer in Tasmanian Devils.

More information about the Tasmanian Devil.

Devil Worshippers Unite.

Sharing isn't on the menu when three Tasmnaina Devils grab onto the same piece of meat.

Sharing isn't on the menu when three Tasmanian Devils grab onto the same piece of meat. You've never heard such a commotion!

Click on these thumbnails to see cards starring Tasmanian Devils on Greeting Card Universe.

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5 Comments

Filed under Animals, Australia, Biology, Conservation, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Friendship, Humor, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Science, Travel

5 responses to “I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil

  1. I like the pic of them “sharing dinner”.

    It drives me crazy to think of all the animals everyday that are being forced off the planet by humans and our greed and stupidity. My son however is a strong advocate of cloning and zoos so in his eight year old wisdom and zealous science fever he often tells me how everything will be cloned soon so nothing will ever disappear entirely. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126905.000-ten-extinct-beasts-that-could-walk-the-earth-again.html?full=true

    It would be nice if there was some “wild” left in wildlife though. Our turn will soon follow.

    I hope we can resurrect some of the extinct species, such as the Tasmanian Tiger. Thanks for this link. Tasmania hasn’t lost too many species yet, but New Zealand is the poster child for extinct species. Cathy

  2. Carolina Maine

    Wonderful photos! I have never seen a Tasmanian Devil before. They are so adorable, but the feeding photo was not so cute!

    Yes, the feeding photos are not so cute. But even people don’t look so cute when they are eating….except babies! Cathy

  3. alwaysjan

    Eat up to 40 percent of your own body weight in one sitting. I love these little devils! That fatal facial tumor thing sounds a little “Elephantmanish,” and it’s a shame that an entire species could be wiped out in such a short amount of time, but we’ll be seeing that more and more unless we act courageously, and most importantly, NOW.

    The devils sound surprisingly like my pot-bellied pig. From what you’ve written – I’m smitten. 🙂

    Yes, those devils can sure pig out! 😉 Cathy

  4. Great post! David Quammen lives in Bozeman and wrote the article about Tasmanian devils in Harper’s. I read it initially because I was interested in the idea that cancers are a virus (which is how this is spread amongst the devils). David is a great writer and advocate for wildlife.

    I’m so excited to see a devil when I’m in Tasmania! A teacher who works with my husband advised not to try to pet them – which I really wasn’t interested in doing anyway, but funny advice nonetheless.

    For some crazy reason, I was determined to pet one, and I did when a keeper was holding it. It seemed to be fine as we all gave it a stroke until one young man put his hand too near the devil’s head. Then we all saw first-hand how the devil got its name! Cathy

  5. Stephen

    Would the tazmanian devil be friendly to all humans?

    Only Tasmanian devils that have been raised in parks and handled by the keepers will be friendly at all, but they are easily upset. It’s best to admire them from the other side of the fence or from afar. Cathy

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