No, they dont create dust devils at will and, no, they dont occasionally speak in broken English. Learn the truth about Taz and his relatives on this Wildlife Wednesday!
When it comes to these particular carnivores, we generally think of Taz, the unintelligible, brown-furred Looney Tune with a short temper and a huge appetite. On this Wildlife Wednesday, we learn about the creature that inspired those fond memories and Saturday morning cartoons—the Tasmanian devil.
These menacing marsupials are found in, you guessed it, Tasmania.
Needless to say, Warner Bros. took a bit of creative license when it came to creating Taz. Let’s straighten out the facts a little:
- Devils are black and often have white markings across their chest, but they’re not brown and tan.
- They also don’t try to speak to others by spluttering guttering noises with the intermittent sentence in English. Instead, they use coughs, snarls, and screeches to communicate.
- They’re not at all interested in eating rocks, trees, shrubs, and the like. They are scavengers, though, so they’ll eat just about any meat they can find, including insects, possums, and wallabies (and probably wise-cracking rabbits, too).
- They also have rather voracious appetites—a male can eat up to a quarter of his body weight in one sitting.
- Finally, no, they don’t move around by spinning until a dust devil surrounds them. Instead, they’re seen ambling up to 16 km in search of food.
Why are they threatened?
In the past, farmers considered devils to be a nuisance because they would eat animals caught in snares and were thought to hunt sheep and lambs. Farmers, as a result, laid about traps, causing devil numbers to dwindle until a law was passed in 1941 that protected the species. Until recently, the population was increasing.
However, a contagious cancer known as “devil facial tumour disease” (DFTD) emerged in the mid-1990s and has been wreaking havoc on devils ever since; some estimates suggest that local populations have fallen by up to 90 percent since the disease was first recorded.
Things may be looking a bit hairy for Tasmanian devils, but conservation efforts are underway. The Tasmanian government launched a program in 2003 to respond to the threat of DFTD, and researchers are currently working to treat and prevent the disease. Many universities and other organizations are doing their part, too.