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Video footage reveals the secret life of Tasmanian devils

Georgina Andersen with devil

Have you ever wanted to observe the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial in the wild? Now, you can.

A trio of University of Tasmania alumni have just released incredible video footage of the Tasmanian devil.

The team, Dr Georgina Andersen (PhD 2016), Dr Hugh Mcgregor (PhD 2017) and Professor Menna Jones (PhD 1996) captured the footage by fitting lightweight collars with video cameras to wild animals to track their movements.

The recently published study gives a detailed, ‘devils’-eye view’ of the social and foraging behaviour of Tasmanian devils in the State’s Arthur Pieman Conservation Area.

The research found:

- When devils are active, they run at a constant pace and rarely walk;

- Most scavenging occurs in natural vegetation, although devils also scavenge in pasture and along roads and hunt (to a much lesser extent) in both native vegetation and pasture;

- Most detailed social interactions take place when the devil is travelling, and three-quarters of these involve vocalisations only and a brief chase but no physical contact;

- Interactions at dens and around carcasses are much less frequent but also involve a low frequency of physical contact and biting.

The video collars worn by the devils were created by adapting a commercial camera and produced around 144 hours of usable footage.

Lead researcher and alumna Dr Andersen said the cameras allowed a broad look at all aspects of the devils’ lives, including during their travels and in their dens, something past methods of observation had not been able to achieve.

The cameras also enabled a better understanding of the frequency and location of biting episodes, which was essential to the fight against DFTD.

“This information is crucial for interpreting social contact networks relevant to transmission of devil facial tumour disease, to predict long-term epidemic outcome and to inform disease management options,” Dr Andersen said.

The collars would also benefit broader wildlife research.

“Combining even small amounts of video-collar footage with conventional field methods, such as direct observation, remote cameras, GPS collars and determining diet from scat collection can provide a deeper understanding of ecological aspects, such as foraging, habitat selection and social interactions,” she said.

“Most ecological endeavours will benefit from the increased availability of animal-borne video collars, and the deeper insights they can provide on animal behaviour.”

To watch the video, visit this link: https://youtu.be/A9EjwvEHDq8.

The researchers are from the School of Natural Sciences , which is part of the University’s College of Sciences and Engineering.

Image credit: Anne-Mathilde Thierry

Published on: 09 Apr 2020 12:06pm