Fun facts about Tasmanian Devils
Discover the myths, truths and totally wild trivia of these mysterious marsupials.
By Sophia Watson
Among Australia's collection of one-of-a-kind creatures, the Tasmanian “Tassie” devil is high on the list of stand-out members. Get ready to become an expert on these elusive, sometimes misunderstood cheeky little devils.
1. THEY HAVE A LOUD, DISTURBING SCREAM
If you thought frogs and crickets make the loudest evening noises, think again – Tasmanian ‘devils’ are named for the sound they make. In fact, the first European settlers to enter Tasmania (the southern state where they are found) began hearing unearthly, blood-curdling shrieks and growls from deep within the bush, making them imagine that demons surrounded them in the wilderness. Hence: Tasmanian ‘devils’. They make lots of strange sounds (coughs, growls, snorts, sniffs, screeches and even sneezes) usually to scare off other animals to avoid fights.
2. THEIR BITES ARE SO POWERFUL THEY COULD CRUSH YOUR BONES
That’s right – Tasmanian devils deliver the strongest bite for its size of any mammal in the world. Their oversized heads allow them to open their jaws up to 80 degrees wide and their jaws carry enough brute force to crush bone. They can bite through the strongest of metals; even break the cages of livestock and other animals. Devils use their incredibly strong and powerful jaws to consume game or roadkill without any leftovers – they eat every part of their prey.
3. THEY STORE FAT IN THEIR TAILS
Like all marsupials, devils store fat in their tails, which thicken up like humans' waistlines. A particularly plump tail is a sign of a healthy Tassie devil and, considering they can eat up to 40% of their bodyweight in one day, their tails can get mighty plump!
4. THEY SLEEP INSIDE THE BODIES OF THEIR PREY
Tasmanian devils have a bit of a disturbing feeding habit. These mischievous little critters like to fall asleep inside a rotting carcass (called ‘carrion’) so they can wake up and continue eating. Though it sounds a little gruesome, by eating animal carcasses, Tassie devils actually help to keep areas hygienic and free from blowfly maggots.
5. A DEVIL JOEY IS BORN THE SIZE OF A RICE GRAIN
A mother Tassie gives birth to around 20-40 joeys at once. However, these joeys have to race to her pouch, which only has four teats. Talk about a hard start to life! Because of their tiny birth size, the ones that make it will live in their mother’s pouch for roughly three months.
6. THEY ARE THE LARGEST CARNIVOROUS MARSUPIAL IN THE WORLD
The Tassie devil has held this title for over 80 years. Tasmanian devils eat only meat: they hunt birds, snakes and other mammals up to the size of small kangaroos, but they will also eat carrion. They put those tremendous jaws to good use, eating pretty much anything they sink their teeth into, crushing and ravenously ingesting bones and all.
7. THEY YAWN WHEN CONFRONTED
Tasmanian devils are shy, timid and not dangerous to people unless attacked or trapped. However, when they do feel threatened, they do strange ‘yawns’ that look quite fierce. This behaviour is actually more a display of fear and anxiety than aggression.
8. THEY ARE SPECTACULAR TREE-CLIMBERS
You might have heard of Tasmanian devils climbing trees, and you'd be right! Younger Tasmanian devils are a lot more agile and, unlike their elders, can climb trees. Why? Adult devils have been known to eat young devils if they are very hungry, so this climbing behaviour allows young ones to escape. Tasmanian devils are also incredible swimmers and can run at 24 kilometres per hour (15 miles per hour) for up to an hour straight.
9. THEIR TEETH NEVER STOP GROWING
Even a Tasmanian devil's teeth are unique! They have the same number of teeth as a dog (42), but unlike dogs, a devil's teeth grow continuously throughout its life, contributing to its phenomenal ability to consume the bones of its prey.
10. THEY ARE ENDANGERED
Tasmanian devils have been considered to be endangered species since 2008; one of the primary causes being hit by cars when they attempt to retrieve roadkill. In addition, a facial tumor disease is spreading through the population. The tumors build up in affected animals' mouths and stop them from eating. Tens of thousands of Tasmanian devils have died since the disease appeared in the late 90s.
Alongside a team of conservationists from the organisation Aussie Ark, Aussie actor and Tourism Australia ambassador Chris Hemsworth has reintroduced 26 Tasmanian devils into a national park in eastern New South Wales, marking the first time the endangered species have roamed mainland Australia in 3,000 years. The reintroduction plan (#Devilcomeback) plans to release additional devils over the next two years.