Have you heard of the Tasmanian tiger, also known as the thylacine or Tasmanian wolf? It was a large, carnivorous marsupial, looking like a cross between a large dog, tiger and wolf. This fascinating creature had stripes on its back, a long stiff tail and short erect ears, which is how it got its name – Tasmania tiger!
Whatever you do, don’t confuse the Tasmanian tiger with the Tasmanian devil! Unfortunately, the Tasmanian tiger is now considered extinct, while the Tassie devil is well and truly alive and can still be seen throughout Tasmania and in zoos around Australia.
Fun facts about Tasmanian tigers
- Its scientific name is Thylacinus cynocephalus, with the common name Tasmanian Tiger or less commonly, Tasmanian Wolf.
- Despite the name, the Tasmanian tiger is not part of the big cats family.
- The Tasmanian Tiger earned its name because of the distinctive dark stripes along its lower back and long tail.
- It had large, powerful jaws which contained 46 teeth.
- Despite its name, the Tasmanian tiger was shy and would avoid contact with humans.
- The Tasmanian tiger didn’t make a lot of noise but would bark (sounding a bit like a husky cough) when they were excited or anxious.
- They would make a yapping sound when hunting, a bit like a small dog.
- A baby Tasmanian tiger is called a joey
- The female tiger would give birth to a litter of between 2 – 4 joeys.
- The Tasmanian tiger is not to be confused with the Tasmanian Devil which is well and truly still alive.
- The life expectancy of a Tasmanian tiger in the wild was thought to be about five to seven years.
- The last known Thylacine in captivity was called ‘Benjamin.’ He died at a private zoo in Hobart in 1936.
- Although there are still reports of Tasmanian tiger sightings, no sighting has ever been confirmed.
- The Tasmanian tiger species was officially declared extinct in 1986.
- The Tasmanian tiger was the largest carnivorous Australian marsupial to survive into the modern era and was an ambush predator.
- The entire thylacine genome has now been sequenced.
- The Tasmanian tiger features on both the Tasmanian Coat of Arms and the Tasmanian Government logo.
- There are 750 preserved thylacine specimens around the world!
What did a Tasmanian tiger look like?
A Tasmanian tiger looked a little bit like a short-haired dog, with relatively short hind legs, a large head and a long, stiff tail. To eat their prey, they had large, powerful jaws, a 90-degree gape, and 46 sharp teeth. The thylacine jaw bone resembles that of a canine. They were covered in short fur which was usually a yellowish–brown colour, with dark brown-black tiger stripes on their back, from the base of their tail to the shoulders. Here are some beautiful photographs of the Tasmanian Tiger.
In order to carry the young, a female thylacine had a back-opening pouch, while the males had a partial pouch, which was also back-facing. Having a pouch that opens at the back of the thylacines body means it is less likely to fill with dirt when they are moving about or scratching in the dirt.
After being pregnant for just one month, the mother’s thylacine would give birth to a litter (usually 2-4). These young would then make their way to their mother’s pouch and latch onto one of her four teats, where they would remain for the next 3-4 months while they were growing.
Like many species, the male thylacine was usually larger than the female, with most Tasmanian tigers weighing between 15 -30kg.
Interesting Facts about Tasmanian Tiger joeys
- There are 13 preserved joeys in Australia (preserved in jars of alcohol)
- When Tasmanian joeys develop in the womb, they firstly appear more like marsupial animals and only appear more dog-like late in their development.
- The young joeys would be dependent on their mother, living in her back-facing pouch, until they were half-grown.
Tasmanian tiger diet
The thylacine was a semi-nocturnal animal. Occasionally it ventured out during the day, but mainly choose to hunt for food at night, either by themselves or in pairs, using its keen sense of smell and stamina to be successful in catching prey.
As they were carnivorous, their preferred diet was that of kangaroos, wallabies, birds, small rodents and other marsupials.
Tasmanian tiger habitat
Although it is called the Tasmanian tiger, thylacine could actually be found throughout mainland Australia, and even in parts of New Guinea. Proof of the animal’s existence in mainland Australia, by way of fossil remains, was discovered in a cave in the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia in 1990. However, before its extinction, it was solely found on the Island of Tasmania.
The preferred natural habitat of the thylacine was the dry eucalypt forests, grasslands and even wetlands.
The Last Tasmanian tiger
The Tasmanian tiger was last thought to occupy the Australian mainland only 2000 years ago and since then, solely existed in Tasmania. It was reported there were once more than 5,000 thylacines roaming throughout Tasmania, though due to hunting by European settlers, predation by wild dogs, introduced disease and habitat loss, the numbers soon reduced rapidly.
Fearing extinction, the Tasmanian tiger was added to the protected wildlife list by the Australian Government, however, it was sadly too late. ‘Benjamin’ the last know thylacine, died in captivity at a Hobart Zoo on the 7th of September, 1936.
There is a whole preserved specimen of a Tasmanian Tiger in the National Museums Historical Collection (This museum is in Canberra Australia), not to be confused with the Australian Museum.
There is still a lot of controversy around the way Thylacine was treated, the number of animals that were “collected” and converted into specimens and how this contributed to the Tasmanian Tigers’ eventual extinction.
Modern times have seen scientists call for a de-extinction of the Thylacine which seems far-fetched but not impossible.
Tasmanian tiger sightings
Despite officially being declared an extinct animal in 1986, there continue to be unconfirmed sightings of the Tasmanian tiger in the wild. Unfortunately, each supposed sighting has been ruled inconclusive, and the species remains extinct. Does the Tasmanian Tiger still exist? The
lack of proof doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist, and there are plenty of cases of animals thought to be locally extinct that have resurfaced many years later.
People (also known as hunters) have dedicated large parts of their lives to uncovering what they believe is the truth of the Thylacine, claiming they still exist in Australia. Numerous documentaries have been made around these claims and do raise questions about an unknown predator roaming Australia (Is it the Thylacine or a wild cat!).
Thylacine is surely one of the most mysterious Australian animals and who doesn’t love a good mystery?