Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

A Field-Study of Communication and Social-Behavior of the Tasmanian Devil at Feeding Sites

D Pemberton and D Renouf

Australian Journal of Zoology 41(5) 507 - 526
Published: 1993


The Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisii, the largest extant carnivorous marsupial, is normally solitary, but it congregates when feeding on carcasses. In this study, observations of behaviour during group feeding were used to document the communication and social organisation of these little-known animals. Their communication repertoire involved visual (20 postures), vocal (11 sound forms) and probably chemical signalling via urination and ano-genital drag. While some animals had conspicuous markings, 13% had none, suggesting that markings were not necessary for individual recognition. Agonistic interactions seldom resulted in physical clashes, but a few led to damage to the muzzle and rump, as supported by heavy scarring in these regions. Adult males were the most frequently and seriously scarred, probably related to agonistic encounters from longer feeding bouts and copulatory aggression. Devils gorged themselves, eating approximately 40% of their body mass. There was no apparent hierarchical structure to the sequence in which individuals fed. Feeding duration seemed to be determined by the extent to which an animal feeding on the carcass was sated.

© CSIRO 1993

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