Research by an Irish scientist, Dr. E.R. Guiler of the Department of Zoology, University of Tasmania has given a closer picture concerning the life and habits of Tasmanian Devil, one of AustralianÂ’s most extraordinary marsupials. Â“These animals are of particular interest to me because during my years as a student in Tasmania, I became rather familiar with the Devil. I saw many in the bush, listened to their night calls and was clawed by one while taking it out of a trap,Â” he said.
Research by an Irish scientist, Dr. E.R. Guiler of the Department of Zoology from the University of Tasmania has given a closer picture concerning the life and habits of the Tasmanian Devil. “These animals are of particular interest to me because during my years as a student in Tasmania, I became rather familiar with the devil. I saw many in the bush, listened to their night calls and was clawed by one while taking it out of a trap,” he said. The devil is an extraordinary animal and it is one of the very few mammals in the world that has reproduced into one single species. It is also the only Australian marsupial (animal with a pouch on its stomach) that can be entirely black. Some devils may have an area of white hair on the tail or on the chest but most are completely black.The Tasmanian Devil is at present the largest flesh-eating marsupial in the world, that is, the largest after the Tasmanian marsupial wolf, which has not been found since 1930. Generally it measures 70 centimetres of body length with a 30-centimetre-long tail.
The devil is a nocturnal mammal. During the day it lies in a hallow tree trunk or a rock cave, mostly asleep, but at the coming of evening it rises into activity.It is not a popular animal among Tasmanian sheep famers, for it has a bad reputation as a sheep killer. Research by Dr. Guiler and others, however, has shown that the sheep that fall victim to the devil are usually the least strong and the sick ones. Although it is strictly forbidden, many Tasmanian farmers are still known to kill devils illegally by means of traps of poison.
The eating habits of this animal are so free that although it is mainly a flesh-eater it can rightly be regarded as almost omnivorous (eating both meat and vegetables). Examination of hundreds of stomachs of these animals by Dr. Guiler showed these food sources : grass, twigs, seeds, leaves, insects, frogs, lizards, birds, chickens, horses, kangaroos, domestic cats, dogs, sheep, cows, rabbits, rubber soles, leather gloves, bits of plastic, and so on. In addition, grown-up devils are known to eat young devils and indeed, severe fighting appears to be common among them, with the result that some devils are seriously injured in the process. Also there is evidence that the young are seriously threatened by the adults if the two come into contact. A man who had three young devils in a large cage with an adult lost two of the young ones in one night. The old one had killed them. Most of the large prey, however, is not eaten by attack while the victim is still alive. The devils will feed on the dead body of any animal they find, and this may include a dead cow, a dead horse or a dead dog. Although the devil is mainly a ground animal, taking food found on the ground, the young can climb up a tree, reach a bird’s nest and take the baby birds.
Like most flesh-eating animals, the devil has a strict breeding and mating season. It occurs in March of each year, which is autumn in Tasmania. In this period the female sends out a strong smell to attract the male, who remains close to her until mating follows. The young devils spend 105 days in the mother’s pouch. It is a very short pouch life, when compared with that of the grey kangaroo, which is over 300 days. A 105-day-old devil weighs about 200 grammes and is fully furred. After leaving the pouch, the young one may stay with his mamma for many weeks. A baby born in April has been found with the mother in November and December. After leaving the pouch, the young may be left in their nest while the mother is hunting at night, or on some occasions, they may ride on her back. The birth rate of this animal is large enough for its kind. A mother devil may give birth to three to four babies at one time but there is a cruel system of birth control, too, as the adults may kill and eat their own children.
For all that, however, the Tasmanian Devil is one of the more common marsupials in Australia and is certainly the most common and most successful of all of the flesh-eating marsupials. Protected by the fauna laws and well protected in some of the roughest country in Australia, the devil will probably roam the bush at a time in the future when many other marsupials will be only a memory. How the Tasmanian devil got its common name is not certain but the early settlers have regarded that it is a sort of creature which is created by the devil and so they gave it this name which has carried to the present day. As a result, the island of Tasmania is the only place in the world that can boast of having a real live devil in the bush.