A friendly Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus laniarius harrisii
Image: Wayne McLean
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Question: Did Tasmanian Devils (or their ancestors) live outside of Tasmania?
Answer: The short answer is yes – the animal we call the Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus laniarius, did once call mainland Australia home.
Fossils show that different Devil species lived in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Although only one species survives today, a number of 'prehistoric' Devils lived on mainland Australia, dating back several million years – the oldest was a precursor to the Devil called Glaucodon, which probably shared an ancestry between Quolls and the modern-day Devil.
The only evidence of this animal is two jaws found near Ballarat and Geelong. After this, the trail goes a little cold in the Devil family tree. But eventually, after a few millennia, the genus Sarcophilus appears, first represented by Sarcophilus moornaensis, known from a fossil found in New South Wales.
More recently came the 'giant' extinct Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus laniarius laniarius, which was actually the first of the Devils to be scientifically described. The living Tasmanian Devil, Sarcophilus laniarius harrisii, is actually considered a dwarf subspecies of this giant form.
When these giants became extinct, the surviving 'dwarf' Tasmanian Devils lived on both mainland Australia and Tasmania – the two landmasses were connected by a land bridge. Although persisting in Tasmania today, their subsequent extinction on mainland Australia may have been a result of competition with the Dingo, which arrived on the mainland less than 10 000 years ago.