Last Friday I gave you this specimen to identify:
It was a pretty distinctive one, but a great specimen – and a nice robust example of this particular species.
The partially ossified palate and nasolacrimal (or tear) duct on the external border of the orbit shows that this is a marsupial, and the pointy, robust teeth suggest that it’s highly carnivorous with a penchant for carion, which narrows down the options pretty effectively.
As many of you recognised, this is a Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii (Boitard, 1841) – so well done to Tone Hitchcock, Chris, Cindy Nelson-Viljoen, Ric Morris, henstridgesj, palfreyman1414, Lauren McCafferty, joe vans, Daniel Jones and Daniel Calleri, Allen Hazen and Michelle for getting this one right. The key was definitely in those marsupial characters, which immediately ruled out any of the highly diverse placental carnivores.
As several of you alluded to, the Tasmanian Devil is undergoing a major decline in population at the moment, mainly due to a particulary nasty transmissible disease that causes tumours to develop on the face, preventing feeding. The tumours are spread between individuals when they bite each other, especially when feeding, which is pretty common Devilish behaviour.
In fact, Devils are pretty rough and tumble creatures in many of their behaviours. When breeding they have a large litter of up to 30 young, which have to compete for just 4 nipples in the pouch. Unsurprisingly, few of the litter survive and presumably those that do are pretty pushy.
Hopefully the Devils will survive their current population crash. There are some individuals who show some resistance to the facial tumour disease, which reflects the importance of genetic diversity within populations. It would be a great shame if the Devils went the same way as the other large marsupial carnivore, the Thylacine.