With its frightening appearance, the Tasmanian devil enjoys quite the reputation. European settlers found the animal so abrasive that it swiftly earned “the devil” as a nickname. Here are several reasons why.
1. Appearance: The Tasmanian devil is the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial, yet it’s only as large as a small dog. Black in color with sharp claws and a squat build, the devil’s terrible temper and horrific screeches would make for a terrible house pet. Let’s face it — you’d never want to see that mug in your own backyard.
2. Habitat: Fossils of the devil have been found all over mainland Australia, but these days, they only exist in the island state south of Australia known as Tasmania.
3. Insanely powerful bite: Tasmanian devils will not attack a human unprovoked, but they’re not afraid to defend themselves. When they bite, their powerful jaws can cause great injury. Their bite per unit body mass is 540 kg per square inch! That’s strong enough to obliterate a metal trap.
4. Tiny but fierce: These deceptively strong animals can swim across rivers and climb the tallest of trees. If the challenge arises, they’re capable of running for an hour straight at speeds up to 12 miles per hour.
5. Indicative ears: If you’re not quite sure whether a devil is angry (and the snarl is a no-brainer), look at the color of their ears. A furious devil’s ears will change from pink to a bright, fiery red.
6. Secret weapon: Although they are fierce, the devils would rather run before fighting another animal. If the devils feel threatened by another animal species, they can release a terrible odor, which rivals that of a skunk. When preparing to fight another devil, these creatures warn of their furor with a sneeze.
7. Large appetite: Tasmanian devils eat 5-10% of their body weight each day. If they’re really hungry, these critters are known to eat up to 40% of their body weight in only 30 minutes.
8. Messy eaters: The devils are largely scavengers and only prey upon animals who are the size of a small kangaroo or smaller, but they’ll eat every single part of their kills. Bones, organs, fur … nothing is off the menu, but they usually eat the digestive system first and curl up in the cavity while eating everything else.
9. The ubiquitous Looney Tune character: In 1954, animator Robert Porter McKimson Sr. created the Tasmanian Devil. He was inspired by the character’s great appetite and abrasive personality, although the animal’s hyperactive nature was greatly exaggerated … for comic effect.
10. Scientific name: The Tasmanian devil’s official scientific name is Sarcophilus Harrisii, which translates from Latin into “flesh lover.”
11. Once hunted by farmers: Until 1941 when these animals reached “protected” status, the devils were viewed as a threat to livestock.
10. Now iconic & beloved: The Tasmanian devil is the symbol of the both the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Tasmanian Australian rules football team. It also received its own commemorative Australian dollar coin in the early 1990s. The devil is also quite popular with tourists.
13. Facial tumor disease: In the late 1990s, the Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) began to spread through the population, which is now greatly reduced. The disease is not viral but is a very aggressive and contagious cancer.
14. Population threat: Thanks to DFTD, the population of devils has fallen by over 80% and holds a spot on Australia’s Endangered Species list.
15. Nocturnal animals: Although these animals aren’t as plentiful as they once were, the best chances of seeing a Tasmanian devil (other than a zoo) is to drive through national parks or the highland lakes area at nightfall.
16. Tails are a sign of health: The tail of the Tasmanian devil stores fat, and a skinny, depleted tail is a sure sign of a sick or starving devil.
17. Females have pouches: A rear-facing pouch presents itself on female devils. The placement is a clever feature to avoid dirt filling the pouch as a devil digs. Gestation periods only last for about 3 weeks, after which 50 devils rise up. Only a few of them will survive though! Female devils only have 4 nips.