Two juvenile Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii)
Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) (photograph: Jonathan Ayres)

Tasmanian devil

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Scientific name: ​Sarcophilus harrisii

The devil is a Tasmanian icon. It is the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and its famous toothy gape and spine-chilling screeches set it apart from other wildlife.

Fossils show that devils once occurred on mainland Australia where it is believed they became extinct around 3,000 years ago. Confined to the island of Tasmania with Bass Strait separating them from predators and increasing aridity, devils thrived for some time. But life has not been easy for the devil since European settlement. It survived a bounty scheme introduced by the Van Diemen's Land Company in 1830 and a century of trapping and poisoning​.

Its survival in the wild is now under greater threat by the deadly facial tumour disease which has destroyed 80 per cent of the devil population. There is detailed information about the disease and the recovery program on the Save the Tasmanian Devil website. The species is listed as endangered under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 and is wholly protected.

Devils are nocturnal and live in coastal heath, open dry sclerophyll forest, and mixed sclerophyll-rainforest. Generally they shelter by day and find food at night. Notable scavengers, they roam considerable distances in their quest for food. Devils completely devour their prey and are famous for their rowdy communal feeding at carcasses.  They eat a variety of insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

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