Tasmanian devils are the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial. They grow to around 30 cm high at the shoulder, with large males weighing as much as 12 kg. Devils have a distinctive black coat with variable white markings on the rump and throat. One of the devil’s most outstanding characteristics is its guttural call—a screeching, hissing sound that chilled the blood of early European settlers and inspired the name ‘devil’. In reality, Tasmanian devils are shy, elusive creatures that pose no risk to people.
Devils are highly adaptable, with habitat ranging from coastal heath to dry forests and alpine areas. They are nocturnal hunters that feed mainly on carrion, although they do occasionally take live prey. Their powerful jaws and teeth allow them to completely devour the bones, flesh, fur and feathers of wallabies, small mammals and birds.
Devil Facial Tumour Disease
Tasmanian devils were once widespread across Tasmania, including Freycinet National Park, but the population has been devastated by the infectious cancer, Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). The disease was first recorded in 1996 and is known to kill up to 97% of devils in affected areas. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program was established in 2003 in response to the alarming decline of devil numbers across the state. Tasmanian devils are now listed as an endangered species, and research continues to find a cure for this dreadful disease.
On the east coast, a healthy insurance population of Tasmanian devils has been reintroduced in Maria Island National Park, where they can often be seen in the wild. Your best chance of seeing a devil is to visit a wildlife park or join a wildlife watching tour. East Coast Natureworld in Bicheno has a population of healthy Tasmanian devils, and Devils in the Dark offer evening tours that give you the opportunity to see devils at night, when they are most active.
Quolls are also carnivorous marsupials, and Tasmania is home to two species—the eastern quoll and spotted-tailed quoll.
Eastern quolls are the smaller of the two species, and are common in Freycinet National Park. They can grow to 60cm in length, weigh up to 1.5 kilos and range in colour from ginger to fawn, dark brown or black, with small white spots on the body. They nest in trees, but hunt on the ground at night, searching for small marsupials, rats, reptiles, insects, birds and eggs, as well as grasses and fruit.
The spotted-tailed quoll is most commonly found along Tasmania’s north and west coastal regions, and is rarely sighted on the east coast.
You’ll have to be a bit of a night owl to see a quoll—they are accomplished nocturnal hunters but are not above scavenging, and compete directly with Tasmanian devils for food.
Image credit: Wai Nang Poon