Scientists Discover Origin of a Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

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!

Above is a photograph I took of a Tasmanian Devil in January 2009 at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tasmania.  Links to my previous posts on the Tassie Devil are at the bottom.  (I’m just wild about the devils!)

The Tasmanian devil, a fox-sized marsupial, was listed in Australia as an endangered species in May 2009 because of a contagious cancer that has wiped out more than half of the wild population.  New research shows  that the cancers are caused by infectious tumors, rather than viruses as previously thought.  One scientist described the tumors, which are passed from devil to devil through bites, as a parasite.  The new finding will help scientists to devise vaccines that could save the Tasmanian devils and also shed light on the nature of infectious cancers in humans.

Two young Tasmanian devils.

Devils do not exist in the wild outside Tasmania, although zoos and wildlife parks on mainland Australia as well as on Tasmania are breeding captive populations as a strategy against total extinction.  The Tasmanian Devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial now that the Tasmanian Tiger is extinct.

For details on this study, here is a New York Times Article: Scientists Discover Origin of a Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

My previous posts about and photographs of the Tasmanian Devil:

I’m a Friend of the Tasmanian Devil.

More Deviltry.



Filed under Animals, Australia, Health, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Science, Travel

6 responses to “Scientists Discover Origin of a Cancer in Tasmanian Devils

  1. Carolina Maine

    Ooh. I don’t want to drop dead around those critters–clean plate club members and all.

    That is interesting about the contagious tumors. I’m curious about that.

    This post is really interesting–that yawning photo is cute–the babies–well–they look hungry.


  2. alwaysjan

    OMG – That description of the devils under the first photo describes me – a peevish attitude about sharing food and a member of the clean plate club. Do you think….?


  3. That is one strange looking creature. It’s interesting how is tongue curls up in the first picture. That jaw certainly looks like it could do some serious damage…


  4. Clean plate club? Must be cousins of mine. :p

    Another fantastic photograph and chock full of useful information, too!

    I think every discovery in the animal kingdom illustrates why humans should care about not nudging species towards extinction.


  5. I’m so glad to hear they’ve made some new discoveries on this front. Let’s hope it’s the first step toward finding a cure. A world without Tasmanian devils would be a lot less interesting. I miss Tasmania. Want to plan another trip?


  6. And, just like any other baby, they are the cutest little things… 🙂


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