Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine)Tasmanian Wolf
The Tasmanian tiger, also known as the Thylacine, was an Australian carnivorous marsupial resembling a dog or wolf with short yellowish-brown fur and 15 to 20 prominent dark brown stripes across its back and rump. The colour of its coat and its striped appearance, similar to a tiger, is why Europeans called it the Tasmanian Tiger. The Tasmanian tiger was hunted to extinction by European settlers. The last Tasmanian tiger died of neglect in a zoo on 7 September 1936. It froze to death.
The Tasmanian tiger had a slender body about 1 meter (3.3 feet) long, with a stiff tail measuring around 0.5 meters (1.5 feet). Adult Tasmanian tigers were about 60 centimetres (2 feet) tall at the shoulders. They weighed approximately 27 kilograms (60 pounds), with males being slightly larger than females. Both male and female Tasmanian tigers had a pouch. The female Tasmanian tiger had a backwards-facing pouch in which it raised a litter of up to four babies at a time. The male Tasmanian tiger also had a pouch, but his pouch was for storing its scrotum and testicles! This feature was unique amongst marsupials.
The Tasmanian tiger had a relatively broad head, prominent upright ears, and large black eyes with elliptical pupils, allowing for excellent night-time vision. It had a pointed, fox-like muzzle with an impressive-looking mouth with 46 teeth that could open up to 90 degrees (a dog can only its mouth 44°). However, the Tasmanian tiger's jaws and skull were relatively weak and did not have a powerful bite. This limited the Tasmanian tiger's ability to take down large prey, such as kangaroos and wombats. Instead, it fed on smaller animals weighing 5kg or less. However, when threatened, the Tasmanian tiger would open its mouth wide and display its teeth in a fearsome yawn to intimidate its attacker. The Tasmanian tiger was a quiet animal, emitting only a low growl when irritated, whining to communicate with others and coughing or barking to signal its presence when hunting.
The Tasmanian tiger's hind legs were longer than its front legs, making its pelvis higher than its shoulders. It had a strong, stiff tail similar to a kangaroo which it could not wag and was held rigidly behind it when it moved. Because of this unusual anatomical structure, the Tasmanian tiger had a stiff, awkward walk and could only manage a slow, ungainly trot. It could not sprint. (See the video for a more detailed explanation of how the Tasmanian tiger moved). What is unusual, however, is that it could perform a bipedal hop like a kangaroo. To do this, the Tasmanian tiger would stand upright on its hind legs, with its tail acting as a tripod support as a kangaroo does. It could then hop short distances in this way. It could also easily stand upright on its hind legs. Tasmanian tiger used bipedal hops as a quick way of moving away when it was frightened or alarmed.
The Tasmanian tiger had an arm structure that allowed it to rotate its arms and face its palm upwards, like a tiger or cat. These flexible arms helped it grab its prey in a surprise ambush attack but hindered it in fast pursuits.
The Tasmanian tiger's scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalis meaning wolf-headed pouched dog. Its other commonly used name, Thylacine (pronounced thigh-la-sin), is derived from this scientific name. It is also referred to as a Tasmanian wolf. The closest living relative of the Tasmanian tiger today is the small insectivorous numbat, which has the hallmark black stripes on its back.
Tasmanian Tiger Habitat Where Did Tasmanian Tigers Live?
Tasmanian tigers originally lived in open forests, wetlands, and grasslands throughout Australia. But with the introduction of the dingo dog by humans about 5,000 years ago, the Tasmanian tiger became extinct in mainland Australia around 2,000 years ago.
By the time the first European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788, Tasmanian tigers were only found on the island of Tasmania off the southern tip of Australia (coloured green on the map). But with European settlement, the Tasmanian tiger withdrew further into the dense forests of south-eastern Tasmania and finally becoming extinct in the early twentieth century.
Tasmanian Tiger Diet What did Tasmanian Tigers Eat?
The Tasmanian tiger ate small animals such as wallabies, bandicoots, possums, birds and other small prey. It was a specialised eater and preferred soft body tissue such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, and soft flesh. The Tasmanian tiger was a nocturnal animal and hunted at night. It rarely scavenged. Although the Tasmanian tiger was about the size of a dog, it did not hunt down large prey. This is because, even though it had a large mouth with jaws that could open almost 90 degrees, its jaws and skulls were weak. As a result, its mouth was not strong enough to handle the stresses of pulling down large prey such as a kangaroo or wombat.
In 1803, European settlers introduced domestic animals, such as poultry, sheep and rabbits. These settlers made many unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims of the damage Tasmanian tigers were causing to their livestock and used these false claims to justify a vicious campaign to eradicate the tiger.
Recent research suggests that while the Tasmanian tiger may have been capable of attacking a lamb, rabbit or poultry, it is doubtful that it would have brought down an adult sheep or cow. Instead, most of these killings were probably the work of feral dogs, descendants of dogs introduced to the island by European settlers.
Tasmanian Tiger Reproduction & Life Cycle Tasmanian Tiger Pouch, Teats, Penis & Babies
Very little is known about the reproductive and mating characteristics of the Tasmanian tiger. It is assumed that they bred between winter and spring once a year. The female Tasmanian tiger had a backwards-facing pouch with four teats inside. It raised a litter of up to four babies at a time. The male Tasmanian tiger had a bifurcated or two-pronged penis located behind its scrotum. The male Tasmanian tiger also had a pouch for storing its scrotum and testicles!
It is estimated that the gestation period of the young inside the mother varied from 21 to 35 days, after which the female gave birth to up to four offspring. At birth, a baby called a joey, was about the size of a jellybean, hairless, blind, with no ears and only tiny stumpy limbs. Once it has exited the mother's birth canal, the joey uses its sense of smell and strong arms to crawl to the safety of her pouch. There the joey attached itself to one of its mother’s four nipples. Her young remained in her pouch for 3 to 4½ months before they left the mother's pouch and ventured outside. Juveniles remained with their mother for about 12 months before leaving the family unit to lead independent lives.
The life expectancy of a Tasmanian tiger was about 5 to 7 years.
Tasmanian Tiger Extinction Extinction Timeline of the Tasmanian Tiger
The thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) had lived in Australia for over 4 million years before it finally became extinct on the 7 September 1936. On that day the last Tasmanian tiger (see photo) died from exposure to the cold at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, Tasmania. The zoo-keeper forgot to lock the animal in its shelter for the night, and the unfortunate animal froze to death on a cold concert floor. There were no news reports to record the animal’s passing. Its body was just thrown away. What an ignominious end to such a unique and splendid animal!
The last wild Tasmanian tiger was shot earlier on 6 May 1930 by Wilf Batty, a farmer from Mawbanna in northeast Tasmania. Wilf claimed that the Tasmanian tiger was killing chickens. When Wilf brought the dead thylacine's body home, his dogs fled and didn't return for three days. (The dog does look frightened in the photograph). Since 1930, many people have claimed to have sighted Tasmanian tigers in the wild, but these sighting have never been confirmed.
The Tasmanian tiger had lived on the Australian mainland until about 2,000 years ago, when it became extinct because of the introduction of the dingo, a wild dog brought to Australia from Asia and adopted by many Aboriginal people as pets. The dingo was a pack hunter and far more efficient in catching prey than the thylacine. Over thousands of years, the dingo out-competed the thylacine for food, bringing about its extinction on the Australian mainland.
Fortunately the dingo never made it across the ocean to the island of Tasmania, and thus the thylacine did not have to compete with it for food there. The Tasmanian tiger survived and coexisted with the local Aboriginal population living on the island at the time. When European settlers arrived in Tasmania, the Tasmanian tiger was still relatively common. But in just 150 years, it was extinct.
Why The Tasmanian Tiger Became Extinct Why the Tasmanian Tiger is Extinct
The Tasmanian tiger became extinct because of excessive hunting, habitat loss, and introduced diseases introduced by European settlers. The animal was falsely accused of being a sheep killer and both private and government bounty schemes were introduced to eradicate them.
The fur trade also contributed to their demise. Many Tasmanian tigers were killed, and their pelts made into waistcoats. And many other animals, such as possums, wallabies and platypuses that constituted the Tasmanian tiger’s diet, were also killed reducing the Tasmanian tigers’ food sources.
Furthermore, extensive competition from introduced carnivores such as cats and dogs directly affected the availability of smaller prey, which the Tasmanian tiger exclusively hunted. Introduced animals also carried diseases, such as Distemper, to which the Tasmanian tiger had no resistance. Habitat loss due to human actions further impacted their survival. Over 200 of these animals were captured and sold to zoos and circuses, while a further 500 were killed as specimens for museums and universities.
The Tasmanian government finally listed the Tasmanian tiger as a protected species on 10 July 1936, just 57 days before the last Tasmanian tiger died, and the species became extinct.
The Tasmanian Tiger Falsely Accused
This photograph from 1921 purporting to show a Tasmanian tiger attacking chickens was widely circulated to stir the public. But, by this time, it was rarely seen and was already close to extinction.
Actually, this photograph is fake. The tiger was a stuffed specimen from an exhibit, with a dead chicken placed in its mouth. In the original uncropped photograph, below, you can see dead branches placed in front of fencing and congregated iron sheets to make it appear as though the photograph was taken in the wild.
Tasmanian Tiger Predators & Threats What Killed Tasmanian Tigers?
The adult Tasmanian Tiger was a formidable apex predator. It had no native animals that would attack it. However, domestic dogs and cats introduced by European settlers changed its dominance. However, the most significant predators that caused the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger were humans, who indiscriminately killed these majestic creatures and drove them to extinction.
Real Tasmanian Tiger Facts
- The Tasmanian tiger got its name because of the tiger-like stripes on its back and tail.
- Actually, it looked more like a dog or wolf.
- That's why it was also called the Tasmanian wolf.
- Tasmanian tiger was the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world.
- It was about 1.5m long, from its nose to the tip of its stiff tail.
- The Tasmanian tiger lived in open forest and grasslands.
- It had pupils like a cat's.
- This was well suited to its nocturnal behaviour. It was only seen after dark.
- It had a coughing bark when hunting or excited.
- The Tasmanian tiger had unusual legs. Its hind legs were longer than its front legs.
- It had a stiff tail similar to a kangaroo. It couldn't wag its tail.
- This gave it an awkward walk and an ungainly trot.
- The Tasmanian tiger rarely moved fast, preferring a leisurely walk or trot to a sprint.
- It could also hop short distances like a kangaroo.
- The Tasmanian tiger had a huge mouth with 46 teeth.
- But it only hunted small prey because it had weak jaws and jaw muscles.
- It was an ambush predator, like a cat.
- When threatened, it opened its mouth wide, showing off its impressive teeth.
- The female had a rear-facing pouch.
- The male also had a pouch, in which it stored its scrotum and testicles!
- The Tasmanian tiger was once found throughout Australia.
- It became extinct on the mainland about 2,000 years ago, possibly due to the dingo.
- It survives on the island of Tasmanian, until white settlers killed them off.
- The last Tasmanian tiger became extinct in 1936.
- Two weeks before laws were passed to protect it.
All Rights Reserved. (Last Updated: May 31, 2023)