Episode 161 – Tasmanian Devil: The Devil Down Under

“…and today we’re talking about the devil down under and his horrifying night time death screams.”

Far from the reckless, neckless monstrosity that Warner Brothers uses to move their cartoon plots along, the real Tasmanian Devil is a semi-cute mongoose pig that will eat anything that comes across its path. From its brutal and competitive birth to its habit of sumo wrestling its neighbors for food, this little carnivore lives the austere, battle-hardened life of a Viking or a Spartan. But ferocity and selfishness seem to go a long way when it comes to surviving in the wilds of Tasmania here on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Tasmanian Devil

The Tasmanian devil looks like a little black bear with a big rat head and weasel’s fluffy tail. They’re mostly black or brown with a patch of white that runs along their chest and one that runs along their butts above the tail.

These little devils have large heads with jaws to match. Their gaping maws look like they were who the inventor of the club sandwich was cooking for when they came up with that unwieldy lunch. 

They look like they could fit in with racoons and rodents, but of course, like many Australian mammals, they’re in the pouch gang.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new intro from our friend The Wizard Gandalf.

Body Length

  • 652 mm (25.7 in)
  • How many tasmanian devils go into the distance between tasmania and the australian mainland?
  • Hint: Tasmania is south of Victoria, Australia. Australia is actually made up of six states and 10 territories.
  • Answer: 369,805 devils. Tasmania is 240 km (150 mi) south of Australia. 


  • 8 kg (18 lb)
  • How many Tasmanian devils go into the weight of the Arve Giant?
  • Hint: In 2019, Tasmania experienced brush fires that took out some of the largest flowering trees in the world. In January of 2019, one of the largest was a tree called the Arve Giant was destroyed. The tree was a gum tree of the species Eucalyptus globulus.
  • Answer: 28,555 Tasmanian devils. The tree had a mass of 233 tonnes (257 US tons).

Fast Facts About the Tasmanian Devil

These little devils, of course, hail from the Island of tasmania. They used to live on the mainland but they were pushed out by competition from humans and dingos. 

Tasmanian devils enjoy the crepuscular and nocturnal lifestyles, preferring to spend their days, lounging around in holes and bushes. They do this to avoid predation from large birds of prey and other predators. I’ve seen some conflicting things about their ability to climb. I’ve read that juvenile devils may climb trees to escape predation but adults aren’t as confident arborealists. But also that they have longer forelimbs on average, expressly for the purpose of climbing. 

Tasmanian devils are so named because Europeans that came to Tasmania shuddered at the horrifying sounds they made through the night and attributed the sounds to a devil in the dark. 

The Biggest Little Predator

The fact that they’re relatively small, they’re the largest carnivorous mammals on Tasmania, and they’re the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world.

These little carnivores have a bite that lives up to their terror tones. In fact, their bite is the strongest relative to body size among mammals. This allows them to crunch down on the bones of their prey. Rightfully so, because they leave no scraps behind when they find a meal.

Despite their death screams and bone crushing bite, they’re relatively mild mannered and prefer to scavenge meals. But they do become very aggressive and loud when threatened. Though, they can bring down prey like small vertebrates and bugs.

Road Roamers

They’re often found along roadways to take advantage of roadkill. 

They live solitary lifestyles, but they often come together around meals, like you and your distant relatives during the holidays. For some reason, when one finds a meal they scream so loud it attracts all the devils in the area. Before you go thinking this is an act of altruism, they tend to bite and scratch at each other while eating. Older devils are often covered in scars from years of fighting at every meal.

Perhaps, it’s because eating makes them vulnerable and a cacophony of screams and teeth deters predators.

Major Fact: The Devil You Know

If ever there were spartans in the animal kingdom, these guys would take the cake

They’re all lone rangers that seem bred for battle and survival of the fittest.

A female will give birth to up to 30 young in one litter, but she only has room to nurse 4 of them, so it’s instantly a race to see which four will latch on. Those that don’t latch die.

Once they leave the joey pouch after 100 days, they start their lives as ravenous meat eaters.

Anything’s Edible

They’ll eat just about anything, but they definitely mostly love all kinds of meat including:

  • Hunting prey like wombats, wallabies, rabbits, kangaroo joeys, and little marsupials like bettongs and potoroos. They also hunt birds, insects, fish, frogs, snakes, and lizards
  • Vegetable matter and fruits
  • Livestock young and weak. In what might be the most horrible thing ever, they’ll eat the legs of sheep whose feet slip through the wooden planks in their shearing sheds.
  • Roadkill and even buried animals. They’ll find dead cows, sheep, or horses that have been buried, eat out their intestines, and then hang out in the cavity to munch on the rest.

Tasmanian Mania

They’re not very fast, so they can’t just chase down healthy prey. They mainly go for weak, old, and injured prey. They also follow other predators to their kills and then scare them off with their unbridled ferocity. So what often happens is another faster predator like a quoll makes a kill, a juvenile will often come and scare off the quoll since they’re more active in early dusk. 

  • Then the unholy sound of them eating will attract older, more mature devils. 
  • The dominant males will scare off the juveniles and eat their fill. Then the others can eat.
  • The sound of a feeding frenzy can be heard over 7 miles away, so many devils might show up to the party.

Jaw Strength

Their jaw strength is 1200 lb per square inch, so they can eat absolutely everything including the bones of smaller mammals. So farmers sometimes like them as scavengers since dead animals are disposed of before disease and flies take hold. They’re like land piranhas. They’ll also bite themselves out of metal traps with their jaws.

They’ll also fight each other during feeding frenzies and for mates. They sometimes bite and scratch each other, but they also stand up on their haunches and push each other with their paws like little sumo wrestlers.

Ending: So be nice, take turns, and keep an eye out for your siblings unlike the Tasmanian devil.