Tasmanian devil, extremely voracious marsupial, or pouched mammal, of the dasyure family, now found only on the island of Tasmania. The Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisi, formerly found also in Australia, is about 2 ft (60 cm) long, excluding the 12-in. (30-cm) tail. It has a large head, with powerful jaws, and weak hindquarters. Its blackish fur is marked with white patches on the throat, on each side, and on the rump. The animal has a fierce appearance. It is very strong for its size and preys on animals larger than itself, such as small kangaroos, as well as on rodents, lizards, and other small animals. It lives in burrows in rocky areas.
Like the related thylacine, or Tasmanian wolf, the Tasmanian devil was relentlessly hunted because of its inroads on domestic livestock and poultry. Although it survived in sizable numbers in remote areas of the island, it is now threatened by a fatal facial cancer that has spread steadily and decimated infected populations since the late 1990s. In 2009 the Tasmanian devil was officially declared endangered. A lack of genetic diversity in the marsupial has facilitated the cancer's spread; the recent discovery of a possibly resistant genetically different population in W Tasmania has raised hopes for the species. Efforts are being made to establish a sizable disease-free population on the Australian mainland.
The Tasmanian devil is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Marsupialia, family Dasyuridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.