Photo of the Month: Tasmanian Devil

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Tasmanian devil; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: Tasmanian devils are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The global population has declined by more than 60% in the last 10 years, primarily due to a contagious cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). There are an estimated 10,000-25,000 individuals left in the wild.

Habitat: Once abundant throughout Australia, these animals are now found only on the island of Tasmania. Their range encompasses the entire island, although they seem partial to coastal scrublands and forests. Devils’ dens are typically underground burrows (such as old wombat burrows), hollow logs, and caves. Adults are thought to use one den for life.

Diet:  Tasmanian devils are strictly carnivorous and frequently scavengers, eating pretty much anything they can get their teeth on–snakes, birds, fish, insects, and carrion.

Despite what Looney Toons has told us, Tasmanian devils are not necessarily the whirling maniacs you might imagine. While they can be aggressive when threatened by a predator, fighting for a mate, or defending a meal, these marsupials are actually somewhat shy. Devils are solitary and nocturnal, emerging at night to feed.

Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world (reaching over two feet in length and weighing up to 25 pounds). When they do find food, they devour everything—including hair, organs, and bones. Early European settlers dubbed these animals “devils,” presumably after witnessing their eating habits and listening to their range guttural growls, snarls, and screeches.

On December 9, two male Tasmanian devils arrived at the LA Zoo. The young devils are brothers and mark the return of their species to Los Angeles after 23 years. Visit them across from the koalas in the Australian section.