Despite the Tasmanian devil’s fierce reputation, in reality, it has a rather shy, cautious disposition (2) (4). Only when threatened, or in competition with other devils for food, does it resort to aggressive behaviour, but even this is usually limited to a theatrical display of growls, snarls, and screeches, rather than physical clashes (2) (3) (4) (6). Sheltering by day in dense bush or a den such as an underground burrow or a hollow log, the Tasmanian devil emerges at night to search for food. It has a slightly clumsy, loping gait, but can cover considerable ground (up to 16 kilometres) in a single night (1) (2) (3). While capable of hunting small prey, scavenging is its forte, with an acute sense of smell enabling it to rapidly locate dead animals in the bush (3) (4) (6). Typically it will wholly devour whatever meat is available, from insects to beached fish, with small mammals such as possums, wombats and wallabies being particular favourites (2) (3) (4). It is not uncommon for several devils to arrive at one carcass at the same time, precipitating the noisy displays of aggression necessary to establish a hierarchy of dominance (3) (4) (6).
The Tasmanian devil is a solitary animal, but at times is also highly social, such as when feeding communally, or during the breeding season (4) (5). Mating usually occurs between the months of January and March, but if a female doesn’t fall pregnant or loses young, she can come into oestrus again and mate up until July (3) (4). The female exhibits little in the way of fidelity, visiting several males in quick succession, whilst each male, uncertain of their own paternity, will try to physically prevent the promiscuous female from leaving (5). After a three week gestation period, the female gives birth to up to 20 young but as the female only has four teats, the first four young that make it to the pouch immediately attach to one of the teats in the backward-opening pouch. At around five months old, the fully-furred young emerge from the pouch and take up residence in a simple, grass-lined den. Another month on, and they start to explore the den’s surroundings, eventually becoming fully weaned and independent at about ten months old (2) (3) (4). Sexual maturity is reached towards the end of the second year, with an average life expectancy of around five to six years in the wild (1) (2) (3).