thylacine

thylacine (thĪˈləsĪnˌ) [key] or Tasmanian wolf, carnivorous marsupial, or pouched mammal, of New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania, presumed extinct since 1936. The thylacine is often cited as an example of convergent evolution: It was superficially quite similar to a wolf or dog, although it had evolved entirely independently of these animals. About the size of a collie, it had a long tail and a wolflike head with short ears; its large jaws were relatively weak. Its coat was brownish with a series of black stripes across the back, and it was also known as the Tasmanian tiger. A nocturnal hunter, the thylacine probably preyed on small animals. The female gave birth to very undeveloped young, which were then carried in a pouch surrounding the teats. By the time of European settlement, thylacines had become extinct or nearly so everywhere except Tasmania, and there they were aggressively hunted because of their reputed attacks on sheep and poultry; its jaws, however, make it unlikely that it could have easily killed sheep. Habitat loss, the introduction of dogs, and other factors also probably contributed to their extinction. The last known thylacine died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo in 1936; reported sightings since then in Australia and Tasmania are unconfirmed. Thylacines are 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.

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