The lives of devils

The most important inhabitants of Darvin´s crater

Tasmanian devils are extremely adaptable, inhabiting almost all types of environments except the highest mountains and cities. They play an important role as the health police, cleaning up carcasses. During their rounds they can easily walk up to 16 kilometres every night.

Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo

Devils are meat-eaters. They will readily eat any prey they can catch and overpower (including other devils if they are wounded or otherwise weakened), as well as carrion. Thanks to their excellent nose, they can smell a carcass from over a kilometre and they eat the lot, bones and all. Their appetite is extraordinary: they can consume more than a third of their body weight in a single feeding lasting just half an hour!

Although devils are solitary, up to twenty animals can come together to feed on a large carcass. Such encounters are accompanied by menacing growls, tugs-of-war for the best morsels, and numerous jousts with wide open mouths. However, these seemingly fierce fights are highly ritualised behaviour with many rules and rarely lead to injury. Bloody skirmishes are more frequent during the breeding season.

Devils are not territorial, but once they settle somewhere, they will stay there all their lives. Each devil has three or four dens, with the favourite ones being used for many generations – sometimes for centuries. Individual animals rest in their dens during the day. They also mate in the dens and give birth to their young. During the mating season, the male even guards his partner in the den and prevents her from leaving it, sometimes for a number of days, during which she receives no food or water.

(c) Pavel Procházka