Diet & Behaviour

Diet

Devils are carnivores capable of confidently preying on animals as large as 6kg and are capable of subduing larger prey if they are incapacitated in some way, including through injury, disease or age. However, the majority of their diet is carrion (animals that have already died), some of which may be stolen from other predators, including other devils. While devils are thought to prefer Wombats, due to their high fat content, they generally have no specific preference for food and will eat anything they find including: insects, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals. 

Hearing is the devils strongest sense, however they are also equipped with a powerful sense of smell, thus making them highly skilled at finding carrion and decaying meat. Furthermore, devils can smell rotting flesh from up to 10km away. This ability is part of the reason why devils may sometimes be referred to as the cleaners of the bush because they are capable of sniffing out and completely cleaning up carcasses on farms. This is very important to farmers as removing the carcass reduces the risk of blowfly strike as it eliminates any potential food for maggots and maintains farm hygiene.

Devils have one of the most powerful jaw strengths for their size, with a capability of biting through metal traps and cages. It is estimated that a 10kg devil has the jaw strength equivalent to that of a 40kg dog and can generate enough force to take down a 30kg wombat. Furthermore, these powerful jaws are capable of opening to 75-80 degrees and allow devils to bite and consume bones, fur and exoskeletons of their food. Devils eat literally everything of their including, bones, fur and organs. Furthermore, devils generally eat 15% of their body weight in meat each day, however they are capable of eating up to 40% of their body weight in 30 minutes. After a meal this size however, devils become very lethargic and must rest, making them very easily approachable and vulnerable. This sort of eating behaviour is only possible due to the lack of predation on the devil.

Digestion is very fast in devils, due to a very short digestive tract, with food only taking a few hours to completely pass through the devils system.

Since devils hunt at night, their vision is in black & white, allowing them to detect moving objects more easily. This black and white vision comes at a cost, however, and objects that are still are often difficult to detect by devils.

 

Behaviour

Tasmanian Devils are mainly nocturnal (active at night), spending their days hiding in dens or burrows. The white markings on the body of the devil are thought to have arisen due to their nocturnal lifestyle, acting as a way of directing attacks to areas of the body that are less important.

Devils are usually solitary animals, however, in high density populations they may also demonstrate slight social tendencies, interacting most often when sharing a large carcass. However, when food is scarce devils may steal food from individuals of their same species, making them intra-specific klepto-parasites. Unusually, Tasmanian devils share chemical messages by urinating, defaecating and dragging their cloaca in communal latrine areas.

Tasmanian devils have home ranges but despite their solitary nature are not territorial. Devil home ranges can range between 4 and 27km², with an average of 13km², however, these home ranges are usually hugely dependent on the distribution of food.

Devils or capable of running at speeds of up to 25km/h for an average distance of 1.5km, however, up to an hour of rest time will be spent following running at these speeds. More commonly, Tasmanian Devils will run between 10 and 13km/hour and these speeds can be maintained over much greater distances.

 

The threatening looking yawn or gape of the devil is very misleading, as while it looks intimidating it is actually a display of the devils fear or uncertainty of the situation, not aggression. A strong odour is also produced by devils when under stress, at other times however, devils do not smell at all. Furthermore, devils produce a variety of different fierce noises, ranging from cough-like noises to snarls and even high-pitched screeching. Most of these noises are used as a bluff and form part of a behaviour that acts to minimise potentially harmful fights between individuals, mostly during communal feeding of a large carcass or during breeding season.  However, not all devil noises are bluff, for instance the sharp sneezing noise from a devil is used in an attempt to challenge another devil and is often heard immediately before a fight.

Devils have long whiskers on their face and in clumps on top of their head, these whiskers are important as they are used by devils to help them locate their prey, when foraging in the dark. Furthermore, these long whiskers allow devils to detect when other devils may be getting too close during communal eating and therefore their whiskers also act as a way of minimising potentially harmful fights.

Devils like to wade in shallow pools and just as a cat does, devils often use their front paws to clean their face. Devils, young especially, enjoy climbing small branches.