Box Jelly fish
At a height of just 30cm, the Tasmanian Devil is the world's largest carnivorous marsupial. It was once common on the mainland, but was probably hunted to extinction by humans around 500 years ago.
The Devil is not a particularly agile animal, and so finds it difficult to hunt live prey. As it is primarily a carrion feeder, it has evolved a good sense of smell to sniff out dead or dying animals, and powerful jaws to chase off any other predator already eating the animal. A 10kg animal can exert the same biting pressure of a 40kg dog. Once it has gained control of the dead animal, in a matter of hours, the Devil can consume up to a third of its body weight.
The characteristics of the devil have made it the perfect defender of the Tasmanian ecosystem. Since European colonisation, mainland Australia has lost 50 per cent of its marsupial species. Tasmania, however, has only lost one species of marsupial - the Tasmanian Tiger. The preservation of Tasmania's marsupials has been attributed to the Tasmanian Devil preventing foxes from ever being able to gain a foothold. The fox was first introduced to Tasmania in 1864 but it didn't take hold. Signs of continued deliberate or accidental introduction were again seen in 1972 when a fox was caught in a rabbit trap. More signs were seen in 1998 when a fox stowed away in a container from Melbourne. Despite all the trade and all the deliberate attempts at introduction, fox populations always died out.
The fox probably died out because it one of the few animals that Devils can easily kill. Fox dens are very smelly, and quickly sniffed out by the Devils. Even if the mother fox is at the den to protect her young, she is no match for the Devil. Paleontologist Stephen Wroe has analysed how they would go in a one-on-one battle and found:
Native animals have pouches so do not need to fear the Devil, and might well have evolved pouches because of the Devil. As a consequence, Devils probably know that following a fox scent leads to a far more bountiful meal than the following the scent of any native animal.
Although Devils have kept foxes out of Tasmanian completely, they have not been able to keep out cats. This is probably because cats can make dens in trees where their kittens are safe from the Devil. Nevertheless, cat populations are much lower in Tasmania than the mainland, and this is probably as a result of Devil populations chasing them off their kills. Over million of years, Devils evolved a keen sense of smell and a feeding style that involved following the trails of Quolls in the hope that a Quoll would kill and animal, and could then be chased off their kills. With cats occupying a similar niche to quolls, Devils have simply changed the scents they follow.
As well helping the environment by attacking foxes and cats, Devils help farmers by maintaining hygiene. Any dead livestock is quickly consumed thus reducing the threat of blowfly strike. On the downside, Devils have been known to steal lambs and chickens.
Some scientists, such as Professor Chris Johnson, have advocated reintroducing the Devil to mainland in order to do make life difficult for Cats and Foxes there. His proposal has since been backed by
Some opponents have argued that it would be too risky because the Devil might hunt native fauna as well. In terms of ideology, probably the concern is that native animals get conceived as weak and evolutionary stunted creatures that need to be protected by humans. For example, in 1923, Albert Le Souef, curator of Taronga Park Zoo, wrote:
Le Souef’s attitude still prevails today, and many people find it difficult to conceive of an Australian ecosystem which is better off when they are not presiding over it.
Blogs - Should the Tasmanian Devil return to the mainland?
Activity 1 – Reintroduce the Devil
Professor Chris Johnson has advocated reintroducing the Devil to mainland Australia as a way of dealing with the threat of Foxes and Cats. Sarah Hartwell seemed to be a critic of the plan and wrote:
Activity 2 - Icon
Below are examples of the image of Devil being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Devil.
Activity 3 - Industry
Below are methods that allow some people to make money out of the Devils. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Devils?