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Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Males Females
Body weight 8-14 kg (20-31 lb) 5-9 kg (10-20 lb)
Head-body length 652 mm (2.14 ft) 570 mm (1.9 ft)
Tail Length 258 mm (10.2 in) 244 mm (9.61 in)

General Appearance

General

  • A stocky meat-eating marsupial the size of a Boston terrier, with a long tail, short legs, and long whiskers
  • Described by Quammen (2008a) as having a "trundling" gait and an appearance somewhat like "an underfed bear cub"
  • Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world today

Pelage

  • Black fur marked by white on rump and chest
    • In their study of a wild population at Mt. Williams National Park, Tasmania, Pemberton & Renouf (1993) concluded that devils are not uniquely marked by their white patches
      • Up to 13% of the animals were entirely black
      • Devils could not be uniquely identified by white patches
      • White serves to orient devils to the front and rear of opponents during nighttime encounters

Sexual Dimorphism

  •  Males 15% larger than females (Jones 2008)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Four teats (Guiler 1970)
  • Pouch open to rear (Guiler 1970)
  • Have no "baby (deciduous) teeth" that are lost; original teeth are kept (Owen & Pemberton 2005)
  • Teeth, like those of hyaenas, are highly adapted for carnivorous diet (Jones 2003)
    • Very strong canine teeth with bite strength similar to maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) (Jones 1995)
  • Sharp, non-retractable claws for digging, holding prey, finding food (Owen & Pemberton 2005)
  • Four toes on ground on hind limb; five digits on forelimb (Owen & Pemberton 2005)
    • Have an extended foot pad, like all members of the dasyurid family, which covers the heel and wrist as well as digits (Jones 2003)
      • When standing, devils put weight on these pads
      • When walking, however, devils are digitigrade (up on their toes) (Jones 2003)
    • Can freely rotate hind and forelimbs inwards to enable tree climbing and prey grasping (Jones 2003)
  • Acute sense of smell, good even at 1 km (.6 mi) (Owen & Pemberton 2005)
  • Very long whiskers extending beyond shoulder width (Pocock 1926)
  • Wide ears are well-supplied with blood vessels (Eisenberg et al. 1975)
    • When agitated, ears become red

Tasmanian Devil Appearance

Tasmanian devil, side view

The Tasmanian devil's distinctive face, bushy tail, and white chest stripe make it one of the world's most recognizable marsupials.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Eisenberg et al. (1975)
Guiler (1970)
Jones (1995, 2003, 2008)
Lee et al. (1982)
Owen & Pemberton (2005)
Pemberton & Renouf (1993)
Pocock (1926)
Quammen (2008a)

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