Tasmanian devils are suddenly on the verge of total extinction, due to a mysterious facial cancer that is spreading rapidly through their population. Since the first sick animal’s discovery, eleven years ago, the cancer has swept through Tasmania like a plague, sometimes killing every single Tasmanian devil in an area within 18 months of its arrival. “Once they’ve got a lump, it’s a one way trip,” says Menna Jones, an expert on Tasmanian Devils at the University of Tasmania.
Not only does the cancer cause the host to die, but it also, inexplicably, causes erratic mating behavior in the animals. Infected devils mate too early in their lives, and end up having their children at the wrong time of year, leading to high infant mortality rates.
Tasmanian devils are known for their sheer ferocity when threatened, often boldly defending themselves against creatures many times their size, and for their ability of eating every last bit of decaying corpses, their main source of food. They even seem to display a particular fondness for chewing on skulls.
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