Tasmanian Devils Are Picky Eaters and It Has Scientists Baffled

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In the wild, one can only imagine eating whatever you can to get by. Not quite Cannibal Island style, but honestly, you surely wouldn’t be a picky eater, right? Well, wrong, at least according to our cute little friend, the Tasmanian devil.

Tasmanian devils are scavengers, and if there’s one thing that scavengers do, it’s scavenge. That is, feed on whatever is available, whenever it’s available.

But a new study led by UNSW Sydney has found Australia’s Tasmanian devils are breaking this mould. The study goes as far as declaring the Tasmanian devil is a picky eater.

“It’s a scavenger’s job to just be a generalist and take whatever it can find,” says senior author of the study, UNSW Science Professor Tracey Rogers.

“But we’ve found that most Tasmanian devils are actually picky and selective eaters – they’ve broken the laws of scavenging.”

A common ‘picky eater’ cuisine of choice is chicken nuggets in the human world, but what about in the Tasmanian devil world?

Well, it’s not as easy as that. The definition of ‘picky eater’ for Tasmanian devils comes after scientists analysed the whiskers of our cute little friends.

We reported last month that scientists now had insight into what Tasmanian devils have been feasting on, thanks to their whiskers. The whiskers of Tasmanian devils hold chemical imprints (called stable isotopes) of what they’ve been eating over at least the past nine months, with different qualities depending on what they’ve been up to.

The study, published today in Ecology & Evolution comes as a result of researchers analysing the eating habits of 71 devils captured across seven different sites in Tassie.

UNSW said the researchers tracked these eating habits by analysing a small whisker sample from each devil.

“Surprisingly, only around one in 10 devils had a generalist diet – that is, a broad diet made up of whatever food was available and convenient. The vast majority chose to dine mostly on their favourite foods, whether it be wallabies, possums or rosellas,” UNSW said.

But, just like humans, these favourite meals varied from devil to devil.

You might be thinking, “yeah, OK, cool”, but this is insane because there are no other scavengers in the world that we know of who do this.

“Tasmanian devils are these really cool scavengers that are doing something completely different to every other scavenger in the world,” added Anna Lewis, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at UNSW Science.

“We were surprised the devils didn’t want to all eat the same thing.

“We’re lucky to have them here in Australia.”

Indeed we are.




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