Tasmanian Devil
Sarcophilus harrisii
Population size
10-25 Thou
Life Span
5-8 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae. The size of a small dog, the Tasmanian devil became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936. It is related to quolls, and distantly related to thylacine. It is characterized by its stocky and muscular build, black fur, pungent odor, extremely loud and disturbing screech, keen sense of smell, and ferocity when feeding. The Tasmanian devil is so called by the early European settlers due to its overall black coloration, bad temper, and terrifying screeching sounds it emits. And indeed, this marsupial often has aggressive behavior and is commonly known for its spine-chilling calls. Moreover, this animal has extremely strong jaws and teeth, allowing it to totally destroy its meal, including bones and fur.


The Tasmanian devil has a squat, thick build, with a large head and a tail that is about half its body length. Unusually for a marsupial, its forelegs are slightly longer than its hind legs, and devils can run up to 13 km/h (8.1 mph) for short distances. The fur is usually black, often with irregular white patches on the chest and rump (although approximately 16% of wild devils do not have white patches). These markings suggest that the devil is most active at dawn and dusk, and they are thought to draw biting attacks toward less important areas of the body, as fighting between devils often leads to a concentration of scars in that region. Tasmanian devils have five long toes on their forefeet, four pointing to the front and one coming out from the side, which gives the devil the ability to hold food. The hind feet have four toes, and the devils have non-retractable claws.




Biogeographical realms

The original range of this species covered much of mainland Australia. Presently, the Tasmanian devil is endemic exclusively to Tasmania, where it inhabits a wide variety of habitats. The preferred habitats, however, are dry eucalypt forests, open woodlands, shrubland as well as agricultural lands.

Tasmanian Devil habitat map

Climate zones

Tasmanian Devil habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Tasmanian devils are usually solitary, socializing only when feeding and mating. They are known to gather in feeding groups, usually at carrion. When this happens, the animals display highly aggressive behavior, although they are non-territorial. During the daytime hours, they typically sunbathe or shelter in dense bushes or dens, which are either underground burrows or hollow logs. They come out of their dens only during the night in order to feed. Although this clumsy animal moves around with a characteristic loping gait, it's able to travel long distances of up to 16 km per night. They are considered to be non-territorial in general, but females are territorial around their dens. Tasmanian devils possess well-developed senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. These animals communicate with each other through a wide variety of vocalizations such as the well-known horrifying screeches and fierce growls. They are also known to use some physical gestures, including yawning and tail-raising.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

As opportunistic feeders, these carnivorous marsupials may consume nearly any type of food from frogs, birds, and fish to small mammals and reptiles. It’s known that they more eagerly feed upon occasional carrion that hunt live prey.

Mating Habits

21 days
2-3 imps
8 months
pup, joey, imp

Tasmanian devils are polygynandrous (promiscuous), which means that both males and females have multiple mates. They usually mate in March, producing offspring in April. The gestation period lasts for 21 days, yielding a litter of 2-3 babies, which climb into the pouch of their mother, living there for the first 4 months of their lives. Then they start coming out of the pouch, moving to the den after a while. Weaning occurs at 5-6 months old, whereas independence is reached by 8 months old. The age of reproductive maturity for this species is 2 years old.


Population threats

Since 2001, these animals have lost about 60% of their total population because of cancer known as 'devil facial tumor disease' (DFTD). Currently, DFTD occupies more than 60% of the current range of the Tasmanian devil. In some populations, up to 83% of adult individuals are infected by DFTD. On the other hand, these marsupials compete with introduced Red foxes for food, habitat, and den sites. And finally, these Endangered animals are highly threatened by road accidents and persecution by farmers, who consider the Tasmanian devil a pest species.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Tasmanian devils is around 10,000-25,000 mature individuals. Specific populations have been estimated in the following areas: North-Western Tasmania - 3,000 and 12,500 mature individuals; Eastern/South-western Tasmania - 7,000 - 12,500 mature individuals. Overall, Tasmanian devils’ numbers are decreasing today, and currently, these animals are classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.

Ecological niche

The Tasmanian devil is a key predator in its range. In fact, this animal is the second largest native terrestrial predator in the area only to the Tasmanian wolf. The Tasmanian devil can truly be called the 'vacuum cleaner' of its habitat, since the animal generally prefers feeding upon carrion, thus maintaining the health of the local ecosystem.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The Tasmanian devil belongs to the genus of harrisii. In 1808, George Harris, a surveyor, and naturalist was the first to describe this species in science journals.
  • The well-known 'Loony Tunes' cartoon character 'Taz' is a Tasmanian devil.
  • This species serves as the symbol of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of Tasmania.
  • Despite its small size, this marsupial, in fact, has one of the strongest bites of all the world's animals due to its powerful, muscular jaws.
  • The tail of this animal is used as storage of extra fat.
  • In spite of being very clumsy on the ground, these marsupials are amazingly excellent climbers when in trees.
  • The genus name of this species is “Sarcophilus”, meaning 'meat-loving': this is a combination of the Greek words “sarx” or “sarkos” (flesh) and “philos” (beloved, dear, loving).
  • Because of the extremely strong teeth and the nosy scavenging habits, this animal is nicknamed the Australian hyena.
  • The hind legs of the Tasmanian devil are shorter than the forelegs.
  • When gathering into feeding groups, these animals are extremely noisy, raising a stink that is heard at a distance of several kilometers.

Coloring Pages


1. Tasmanian Devil Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasmanian_devil
2. Tasmanian Devil on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/40540/0

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