Tag Archives: Marsupials

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.

 

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Stoned Wallabies Make Crop Circles in Tasmania

Tasmania produces about 40 percent of the world's medicinal opium poppies, under strict regulation.

Tasmania produces about half of the world's medicinal opium poppies, under strict regulation. But they can't keep the wallabies out.

My friend Anita, who lives in Canberra,  emailed me this story.  We traveled together in Tasmania in January of this year and saw these poppy fields, and we saw wallabies lounging in rutabaga fields, but we didn’t get to see this!

Stoned wallabies make crop circles
Thu Jun 25, 2009 1:30pm EDT
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The mystery of crop circles in poppy fields in Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania has been solved — stoned wallabies are eating the poppy heads and hopping around in circles.
“We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles,” the state’s top lawmaker Lara Giddings told local media on Thursday.
“Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high,” she said.
Many people believe crop circles that mysteriously appear in fields around the world are created by aliens.
Poppy producer Tasmanian Alkaloids said livestock which ate the poppies were known to “act weird” — including deer and sheep in the state’s highlands.
“There have been many stories about sheep that have eaten some of the poppies after harvesting and they all walk around in circles,” said field operations manager Rick Rockliff.
Australia produces about 50 percent of the world’s raw material for morphine and related opiates.

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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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