Animals of Tasmania
Kangaroo  |  Kookaburra  |  Tasmanian Devil  |  Wallaby  |  Wombat

Kangaroos are large marsupials known as `macropods' due to their large feet. There are several species of kangaroo, the most famous being the red kangaroo common in arid regions of Australia.

Due to the more mountainous and heavily vegetated environment of Tasmania, red kangaroos are not found in the state. However, the grey kangaroo (also known as the Eastern grey kangaroo or Forester kangaroo) is common, and is a protected species.

Forester kangaroos can reach over 2m (6'7") in height when fully upright, and can jump 8m (26') in a single bound at high speed, although this would not happen so commonly in Tasmania. This type of kangaroo are most common in Tasmania's north-east, but can also be found in central Tasmania and on the east coast.

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Laughing Kookaburra

Photograph of a laughing kookaburraLaughing kookaburras were introduced to WA in 1897 from the eastern States and now live here successfully. The birds are the largest members of the kingfisher family and can live up to 20 years. They laugh to advertise the boundaries of their territory, then wait to hear the replies of neighboring groups.

Description: Both sexes of the laughing kookaburra have similar plumage. They have an off-white to buff head and body, with a dark line through the eye. The back is dark brown, with sky blue markings, and the tail is barred with rich brown and black, leading to a white tip. The beak is black above and horn below.

Status and Distribution: The laughing kookaburra is common. It occurs naturally in eastern and south-eastern parts of Australia and now ranges throughout south-western WA.

Preferred Habitat: The bird inhabits woodlands, open forests and suburban areas which have adequate shelter and food.

Life History: The laughing kookaburra hunts snakes, lizards, small birds and rodents but consumes mainly insects. The bird forms permanent pairs, which nest from September to January in a flat-floored cavity within a tree trunk or branch. The two or three eggs hatch 24 hours apart. The young fledge in 36 days, and are then cared for and fed for a further eight to 13 weeks. The young are not forced to leave their parents' territory on reaching maturity, but stay on in the subordinate role of non-breeders (only the senior pair breeds). These "auxilliaries", as they are known, defend territorial boundaries, rear and protect offspring, and occupy areas that would otherwise be taken over by breeders. This form of social system is widespread among Australian birds and contributes to their high breeding success.Go to top of page

Tasmanian Devil
Colour photograph of Tasmanian Devil with its mouth wide open growling.The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) cannot be mistaken for any other marsupial. Its spine-chilling screeches, black colour, and reputed bad-temper, led the early European settlers to call it The Devil. Although only the size of a small dog, it can sound and look incredibly fierce.

The world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial, the devil has a thick-set, squat build, with a relatively large, broad head and short, thick tail. The fur is mostly or wholly black, but white markings often occur on the rump and chest. Body size also varies greatly, depending on the diet and habitat. Adult males are usually larger than adult females. Large males weigh up to 12 kg, and stand about 30 cm high at the shoulder.

Devils once occurred on mainland Australia, with fossils having been found widely. Today, however the devil is only found in Tasmania. It is believed the devil became extinct on the mainland some 600 years ago - before European settlement of the continent. The dingo, which was brought into Australia by Aboriginal people, is believed to have ousted the devil from the mainland.

Today, devils are particularly common in some north, east and central districts where some farming practices (e.g. rangeland sheep grazing) provide much carrion. Tasmanian devils can be seen in many rural and wilderness areas by slowly driving at night along secondary roads.

Devils are widespread in Tasmania from the coast to the mountains. They live in coastal heath, open dry sclerophyll forest, and mixed sclerophyll-rainforest - in fact, almost anywhere they can hide and find shelter by day, and find food at night.

Devils usually mate in March, and the young are born in April. Gestation is 21 days. More young are born than can be accommodated in the mother's backward-opening pouch, which has 4 teats. Although 4 pouch young sometimes survive, the average number is 2 or 3. Each young, firmly attached to a teat, is carried in the pouch for about 4 months. After this time the young start venturing out of the pouch and are then left in a simple den - often a hollow log. Young are weaned at 5 or 6 months of age, and are thought to have left the mother and be living alone in the bush by late December. They probably start breeding at the end of their second year. Longevity is up to 7-8 years.

The devil is mainly a scavenger and feeds on whatever is available. Powerful jaws and teeth enable it to completely devour its prey - bones, fur and all. Wallabies, and various small mammals and birds, are eaten - either as carrion or prey. Reptiles, amphibians, insects and even sea squirts have been found in the stomachs of wild devils. Carcasses of sheep and cattle provide food in farming areas. Devils maintain bush and farm hygiene by cleaning up carcasses. This can help reduce the risk of blowfly strike to sheep by removing food for maggots.

Devils are famous for their rowdy communal feeding at carcasses - the noise and displays being used to establish dominance amongst the pack.

The devil is nocturnal. During the day it usually hides in a den, or dense bush. It roams considerable distances - up to 16 km - along well-defined trails in search of food. It usually ambles slowly with a characteristic gait but can gallop quickly with both hind feet together. Young devils are more agile however and can climb trees. Although not territorial, devils have a home range.

The famous gape or yawn of the devil that looks so threatening, can be misleading. This display is performed more from fear and uncertainty than from aggression. Devils produce a strong odor when under stress, but when calm and relaxed they are not smelly. The devil makes a variety of fierce noises, from harsh coughs and snarls to high pitched screeches. A sharp sneeze is used as a challenge to other devils, and frequently comes before a fight. Many of these spectacular behaviors are bluff and part of a ritual to minimize harmful fighting when feeding communally at a large carcass.

Devils were a nuisance to the early European settlers of Hobart Town, raiding the poultry yards, but were soon driven away to more remote areas of the island. In 1830 the Van Diemen's Land Co. introduced a bounty scheme to remove devils, as well as Tasmanian tigers and wild dogs, from their northwest properties: 2/6 (25 cents) for male devils and 3/6 (35 cents) for females. Devils ate animals caught in snares, and were believed to take lambs and sheep. For over a century they were trapped and poisoned and became very rare. They seemed, like the Tasmanian tiger, to be headed for extinction. Despite this the Tasmanian devil was not protected by law until June 1941. This story has a happy ending, however, because the population then gradually increased until today the Tasmanian devil is abundant and apparently safe. Fittingly, the Tasmanian devil was chosen as the symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service.

People sometimes say that devils are in 'plague proportions'. All they are really saying is that there are more than they would prefer to see. Both devil and quoll populations naturally swell dramatically each summer when young disperse into the wild. This is a short-lived phenomenon as 60% will die within the first few months due to competition for food. The increase is a seasonal fluctuation, not a plague. Tasmanian devils are wholly protected.
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Wallabies  are marsupials which, at first glance, look exactly like small kangaroos. They are found in all states of Australia and in Papua New Guinea. Like kangaroos, they carry their young ('joeys') in a pouch, have a strong tail and hind legs, and smaller front paws used for foraging. They feed off seeds and grasses.Wallabies are well suited to the bushy highlands of Tasmania, and are very common in some areas. As Tasmania does not have the flat, open spaces of mainland Australia, the kangaroos are nowhere near as plentiful as wallabies.

The most common type of wallaby in Tasmania is the red-necked wallaby or Bennett's Wallaby (pictured above), which is also found in other south-eastern states. Wild wallabies in populated bush areas are quite friendly toward humans and will accept food. However, feeding native animals is discouraged because it can lead to illnesses such as `lumpy jaw'.Go to top of page

Wombats are large, lumbering marsupials which live only in Australia. They grow to a length of about 3 feet (1m) and weigh approximately 88 lbs (40kg). Wombats live in burrows which they dig in the ground. To assist with their burrowing, they have thick, muscular legs and strong claws.

Common wombats (pictured) are found in Tasmania and in some parts of New South Wales. Hairy-nosed wombats are rarer and found only in the more arid regions of Australia. Wombats usually forage for food at either dawn or dusk, avoiding activity during the hotter parts of the day, when they often bask in the sun at their burrow entrance.

Wombats generally eat grasses and leaves in bush clearings. The wombat population in Tasmania is significant, and wombats tunneling under fences after grazing on farmlands sometimes annoys farmers. Burrows are usually well hidden and wild wombats are not often seen by the public.

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