Thylacinus cynocephalusTasmanian wolf(Also: thylacine)

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Geographic Range

Although Tasmanian wolves (also known as Tasmanian tigers or thylacines) are considered extinct, their original prehistoric range was thought to extend throughout much of mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. This range has been confirmed through various cave drawings, such as those found by Wright in 1972, and bone collections that have been radiocarbon dated to 180 years before present. Tasmanian wolves are now considered extinct. Thylacines were last known to inhabit Tasmania, where they were hunted to extinction. (Archer, 1974)

Habitat

Although the preferred habitat of Tasmanian wolves was never thoroughly described, remains have been collected throughout Australasian coastal regions. From colonial times until their extinction, Tasmanian wolves were found throughout Tasmania. They were most often seen in hilly country, resting during the day in forest and scrub, and hunt during the afternoon and evening in bordering thickets. Other descriptions suggest Tasmanian wolves were found in forested areas and grasslands. These observations may not represent the native preferences, though, because Tasmanian wolves were actively persecuted during this time and that may have effected their behavior. The last remaining populations were restricted to dense rainforests in Tasmania. Tasmanian wolf lairs were located mainly in hollow logs or rock outcroppings located in hilly areas that were adjacent to open areas, such as grasslands. (Brandle, 1972; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926; Lord, 1927; Nowak and Paradiso, 1983)

  • Average elevation
    330 m
    1082.68 ft

Physical Description

Tasmanian wolves had an overall body length of approximately 1230 to 1950 mm, measuring 990 to 1295 mm from the nose to the base of the tail, which measures an additional 508 to 660 mm. They ranged from 350 to 600 mm tall at the shoulders and weighed from 15 to 30 kg. Males were slightly larger than females. (Paterson, 1805)

Tasmanian wolf body structure closely resembles that of eutherian wolves and relatives. However, Tasmanian wolves are marsupials and have a pouch (which is rear opening). Their coat was short and dense and grey or yellow-brown and marked with 13 to 19 dark transverse stripes beginning behind the shoulder blades, gradually increasing in both length and width (Moeller 1968). They also had strong, thick tails (Thomas 1888). They had relatively narrow snouts with, on average, 24 sensory whiskers (Lyne 1959). They had whitish markings around the eyes and on the base of the ears, as well on the area around the upper lip (Le Souef and Burrell 1926). They had strong jaws with 46 teeth specialized for carnivory (Archer 1976c). Their paws were fitted with non-retractable claws that aided in their digitigrade locomotion (Pocock 1926). They were also capable of occasional “sole walking," or bipedal hopping, similar to kangaroos (Gunn 1863). The dental formula was i 4/3, c 1/1, pm 3/3, m 4/4. Tasmanian wolves had long canines, shearing premolars, and grinding molars, all of which are quite similar to those of dogs. In females, the pouch was located by the tail and had a fold of skin covering the four mammae. (Archer, 1976a; Gunn, 1863; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926; Lyne, 1959; Moeller, 1972; Nowak and Paradiso, 1983; Pocock, 1926; Thomas, 1888)

  • Range mass
    15 to 30 kg
    33.04 to 66.08 lb
  • Range length
    1230 to 1950 mm
    48.43 to 76.77 in

Reproduction

Tasmanian wolves were elusive animals and mating patterns were not well-documented. Guiler (1926) speculated about breeding behaviors based on bounty records. He documented that only one pair of male and female adult Tasmanian wolves were ever captured or killed together. This led Guiler to assume that they only came together for mating and were otherwise solitary. However, it may also indicate monogamy. (Guiler, 1961)

Although there is relatively little data on their behavior, Guiler (1961) used bounty records to estimate breeding season. Although “half growns” (and their mothers) were taken during every season, the highest numbers of post pouch young were taken in May, July, August, and September. He estimated that the breeding season lasted approximately 4 months and was separated by a gap of 2 months. It is thought that a female would begin breeding in autumn and could have a second litter of young after the first was weaned. Other sources indicate births may have occurred continously throughout the year but were concentrated in the summer months (December-March). Gestation period is unknown, but it is believed that the young (usually 2-4) stayed in the pouch for about 3 months and remained with the mother for another 6 months. (Guiler, 1961; Nowak and Paradiso, 1983)

  • Breeding interval
    Tasmanian wolves may have bred twice each year.
  • Breeding season
    Tasmanian wolves may have had a 4 month long breeding season, although the timing may have been variable.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 4
  • Average weaning age
    2 months
  • Average time to independence
    6 months

Tasmanian wolf females invested significantly in their young. They were documented caring for 3 to 4 young carried by the mother in her rear-facing pouch until they were no longer able to fit there. While in the pouch, the young were nursed in the pouch on her 4 teats. Juveniles are thought to remain with their mothers until they were at least half grown. (Guiler, 1961; Gunn, 1863)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of Tasmanian wolves is largely unknown. The record for Tasmanian wolf longevity in captivity was a female with the approximate age of 12 years and 7 months, spending 9.5 of those years in captivity. Based on individuals in captivity it is estimated that the lifespan of a wild Tasmanian wolf was 8 to 10 years. (Flower, 1931; Renshaw, 1938)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12.6 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    6 to 10 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    8 to 12.6 hours
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    9 hours

Behavior

Le Souef and Burrell (1926) noted that while pacing, the animal would hold its head low like that of a hound on scent, and would pause abruptly to monitor its surroundings with its head held high. They also noted that these animals are rather docile around humans; paying little attention to yard attendants who would clean the cages with Tasmanian wolves in them. This was thought to be because Tasmanian wolves are half blinded by the sunlight; most of the time during the brightest part of the day they would retreat to their inner dens (as depicted by both ancient mummified remains from coastal caves, and captive habitats) where they would curl up like a dog, however they would also seek out sunlight on occasion to bask in, a truly strange characteristic for a semi-nocturnal animal. While sleeping the Tasmanian wolves would lie on their side fully extended, with its upward ear fully erect. (Le Souef and Burrell, 1926)

As for locomotion, it was documented in 1863 by Gunn that a female Tasmanian wolf once jumped effortlessly to the top of its cage rafters, a good 6-8 feet in the air. Moeller was the one to take notes on Tasmanian wolves distinctive methods of locomotion. The first was a plantar walk, common to most mammals, where diagonally opposite limbs move alternatively, but what was different about Tasmanian wolves was that they would use their entire foot, allowing the long heel to touch the ground. This method is not particularly well suited for running; Tasmanian wolves have been noted loping around its pen allowing only the pads of its feet to touch the floor. The other method was a bi-pedal hop, when the animal stands on its hind limbs with its front limbs in the air, using its tail for balance. It is said to take on a kangaroo-like appearance when it hops short distances. (Gunn, 1863; Moeller, 1972)

Tasmanian wolves were quite docile around humans and there are very few documented attacks. These only occurred when Tasmanian wolves were startled by light, rapid movement, or when backed into a corner. It is noted that Tasmanian wolves do possess considerable strength. It is suggested that Tasmanian wolves track their prey considerable distances until their prey was fatigued, and then capture it in a sudden rush, making these marsupials nomadic. The Tasmanian wolves only eat what they kill and were selective in the parts it consumed. (Gunn, 1863; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926; Troughton, 1967)

Home Range

Reports of Tasmanian wolves have come in various forms spanning thousands of years. From depictions of them in cave paintings and Australasia sightings, specifying a natural home range is quite difficult. Most of the remains of Tasmanian wolves were found in caves near the coast line, primary spots of persecution yeild low documented numbers. This however may be the work of human interaction, because the anatomy of the Tasmanian wolves is thought to be better suited for travelling long distances in order to kill prey. (Gunn, 1863; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926)

Communication and Perception

Although Tasmanian wolves are relatively solitary creatures, vocalizations have been documented when they are disturbed or excited. Gould noted in 1863 that when disturbed, Tasmanian wolves would dash about making short guttural cries close to those of barks. It was noted by Le Souef and Burrell (1926) that when excited they would make a series of husky, coughing barks, with wheezing on the inhale. (Gould, 1863; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926)

The skull of the Tasmanian wolves reveals an enlarged sinus cavity hypothesized to account for its great sense of smell, which is primarily used in hunting. Since these marsupials are semi-nocturnal, the use of sight is a necessity; the quality of its sight however, is another matter. In captivity, the Tasmanian wolves are documented ignoring potential threats (such as zoo personnel) and seeking shelter from the sun regardless of temperature. Its been noted that Tasmanian wolves exhibit vibrissae on its muzzle similar to the placental wolf. (Archer, 1976b; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926; Moeller, 1972; Tate, 1947; Thomas, 1888)

Food Habits

Some of the earliest data depicts the consumption of echidnas (Troughton 1967) regardless of the difficulty to do so. Australian bushman have discovered Tasmanian wolf dens that were half filled with bones, including those belonging to livestock animals such as calves and sheep. The possibility of these animals being scavenged (although unlikely) still exists. It has been witnessed that in the wild, this marsupial will only eat what it kills, and it never will return to the site of a kill. In captivity Tasmanian wolves ate meat (Gunn 1863). It was also found during the inspection of livestock kills, that Tasmanian wolves would consume only specific parts of the animal. Due to this the myth arose that they preferred to drink blood. However other parts of these animals were consumed, such as liver and kidney fat, nasal tissues, and some muscle tissues. Through various bone samples of Tasmanian wolf dens, its native prey included wallabies, potoroos, and bettongs. (Guiler and Meldrum, 1958; Gunn, 1863; Lord, 1927; Troughton, 1967)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • blood

Predation

Of all the marsupial carnivores in the Australasia region, Tasmanian wolves were the largest. It was also one of the most well adapted and the most skilled hunters. With origins dating back to prehistoric times, Tasmanian wolves were considered one of the top predators in the food chain, making predation of this animal unlikely. Regardless, Tasmanian wolves have become classified as extinct due to predation my humans. Through the documentation of government sanctioned bounty hunts and historic personal accounts, a portrait of animal persecution is readily apparent. Through the late 18th century to early 19th century, the mass killing of what we considered to be “pests,” claimed nearly its entire population. The competition from human introduced invasive species such as the dingo, and the destruction of natural Tasmanian wolf territories, pushed the animal past its breaking point. This resulted in the extinction of one of Australia’s most amazing predatory marsupials. (Guiler, 1961; Le Souef and Burrell, 1926; Lord, 1927; Paterson, 1805)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Tasmanian wolves were the largest marsupial carnivore and were at the top of the food chain. With this position in mind, Tasmanian wolves would keep other prey populations within reasonable limits. One such species is the wallaby (one of the Tasmanian wolves hypothesized food sources), whose populations have risen dramatically. (Guiler, 1961)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Tasmanian wolves were a primary source of income for many trappers during the years of their persecution. There are multiple documented cases of payouts to those able to capture and or kill these creatures. Captured Tasmanian wolves were transported to zoos as far as New York City. (Pocock, 1926)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • ecotourism
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Tasmanian wolves were thought to be the source of many agricultural problems for Australian settlers. Sheep herds were thought to be mutilated by Tasmanian wolves. Humans however have attained minimal personal injury from their encounters with these creatures. Of the injuries on record were bites presumably a result of self-defense. (Moeller, 1972)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Other Comments

Benjamin, a female Tasmanian wolf was the name of the last known animal in captivity. She was one of three cubs, whom, with their mother, were captured and displayed at the Hobart Zoo in Australia. Benjamin was the last survivor of these cubs and lived to a record age of 12 years and 7 months. Today, she is not only known as the oldest living Tasmanian wolf, but is also the last. (Archer, 1974)

Professor Archer, the current Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales and professor of paleontology, hypothesizes that it may be possible for a living Tasmanian wolf to be cloned using the DNA from an infant female specimen preserved in alcohol since 1866 at the Australian Museum. This however, would require considerably more effort than simply cloning large domesticated livestock. (Archer, 1976b)

Contributors

Paul Treu (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

sanguivore

an animal that mainly eats blood

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Archer, M. 1976. The basicranial region of marsupicarnivores (Marsupialia), inter-relationships of carnivorous marsupials, and the affinities of the insectivorous marsupial peramelids. Pp. 217-322 in S Awarmik, W Clemens, R Cowen, J Doyle, P Sadler, eds. University of California publications in Geological Sciences, Vol. 131, 1 Edition. Los Angeles: University of California.

Archer, M. 1976. The dasyurid dentition and its relationships to that of didelphids, thylacinids, borhyaenids (Marsupicarnivora) and peramelids (Peramelina: Marsupialia). Pp. 39 in S Awramik, W Clemens, R Cowen, J Doyle, P Sadler, eds. University of California publications in Geological Sciences, Vol. 131, 1 Edition. Los Angeles: University of California.

Archer, M. 1976. Miocene marsupicarnivores (Marsupialia) from central South Australia, Ankotarinja tirarensis gen. et sp. nov., Keeuna woodburnei gen. et sp. nov., and their significance in terms of early marsupial radiations. Pp. 54-73 in S Awaramik, W Clemens, R Cowen, J Doyle, P Sadler, eds. University of California publications in Geological Sciences, Vol. 131, 1 Edition. Los Angeles: University of California.

Archer, M. 1974. New information about the Quaternary distribution of the thylacine (Marsupialia, Thylacinidae) in Australia. Pp. 43-50 in Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 57, 1 Edition. United States: The John Hopkins University Press.

Brandle, E. 1972. Thylacine designs in Arnhem Land rock paintings. Archaeological Physiology of Anthropology Oceania, 7: 24-30.

Campbell, C. 2012. "The Thylacine Museum: A Natural History of the Tasmanian Tiger" (On-line). Accessed October 09, 2012 at http://www.naturalworlds.org/thylacine/.

Flower, S. 1931. Contribution to our knowledge of the duration of life in vertebrate animals. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 5: 145-234.

Gould, J. 1863. The Thylacine. Mammals of Australia, 1: et al..

Guiler, E. 1961. Breeding Seasons of the Thylacine. J. Mammal, 42: 396-397.

Guiler, E., G. Meldrum. 1958. Suspected sheep killing by the Thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus. Australian Journal of Science, 20: 214-215.

Gunn, R. 1863. Letter announcing the shipment of living Thylacines, with remarks on their habits. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 31: 103-104.

Le Souef, A., H. Burrell. 1926. The wild animals of Australasia, embracing the mammalogy of New Guinea and the nearer Pacific Islands. With a chapter on the bats of Australia and New Guinea by Ellis LeG. Troughton. London: George G Harrap.

Lord, C. 1927. Existing Tasmanian Marsupials. PAP Proclimation of the Royal Society of Tasmania, 1927: 17-24.

Lyne, A. 1959. The systematic and adaptive significance of the vibrissae in the Marsupialia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 133: 97-133.

Moeller, H. 1972. Tasmanian Wolf. Pp. 286-293 in B Grzmek, ed. Grizimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 10 (Mammals I, 1 Edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co..

Nowak, R., J. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, 4th Edition. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Paterson, W. 1805. Sydney Gazetter and New South Wales Advertiser. 21 April 1805, 3(112): et. all.

Pocock, R. 1926. The external characters of Thylacinus, Sarcophilus and some related marsupials. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: London, 1926: 1036-1084.

Renshaw, G. 1938. The Thylacine. Journal of the Society for the Preservation Fauna of Empire, 35: 47-49.

Tate, G. 1947. Results of the Archbold Expeditions. No. 56. On the anatomy and classification of the Dasyuridae (Marsupialia). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 88: 101-155.

Thomas, O. 1888. Catalogue of the Marsupialia and Monotremata in the collection of the British Museum (Natural History). London: British Museum (Natural History).

Troughton, L. 1967. Furred animals of Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.