(page 1)

    "When attempting to piece together an account of thylacine behaviour one must first correct the misconceptions of the past.  During the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the scientific community perceived the thylacine as being an evolutionary relic; primitive and ill-adapted to its island home.  This mindset tainted their view of its behaviour. The thylacine was considered as being slow, dumb, stupid, and cowardly; all of which could not be further from the truth.  Possibly the reason that so little was written about the thylacine's behaviour was due to this presumption; the scientific community taking the view that little could be learnt from the study of this 'unremarkable' marsupial carnivore".
Dr. Stephen Sleightholme (pers. comm. 6th April 2012)
Project Director 
International Thylacine Specimen Database

    Dr. Eric Guiler (1985) made the following retrospective critique on the scientific study of the thylacine's behaviour:

    "We must condemn our predecessors for not investigating a species that was both interesting and, even then, rare enough to excite curiosity.  No one ever contemplated field research programmes on the species, and the thylacine had almost disappeared by the time the science of ecology was being developed in Tasmania".

    The few published scientific references to thylacine behaviour are restricted in the main to casual observations of captive animals.  For insights into natural behaviour we have to rely on historical newspaper accounts and the recollections of the Tasmanian bushmen who hunted and observed the thylacine in the wild.  It will be to these historical sources that reference will be made in an attempt to construct an accurate picture of the thylacine's natural behaviour.  In this task, the findings of modern-day research will be examined, and where appropriate, incorporated into any conclusions.

thylacine - London Zoo (circa 1904)
Juvenile male thylacine at the London Zoo (circa 1904) by W. P. Dando.  This thylacine was obtained from the animal dealer William Jamrach, and was resident at the zoo from 26th March 1902 until its death on the 17th January 1906.  It was one of two thylacines that were dissected by Beddard (1908).

    In 2008, a team of researchers headed by Dr. Menna Jones of the University of Tasmania published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science entitled "Life history change in disease-ravaged Tasmanian devil populations" (Jones et al. 2008) in which it was noted that Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are now breeding at a much earlier age to counter the ravages of Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD); and then only once: "Before the disease, the modal female began seasonal breeding at age 2 and produced a litter annually for 3 years, with senescence and death occurring in her fifth or sixth year (Jones / Guiler / Pemberton).  Females now generally have one breeding opportunity and may not survive long enough to rear that litter.  Hence, they are now largely semelparous".

    Stressed populations, like the Tasmanian devil, are more likely to exhibit such aberrant behavioural patterns.  It is highly probable that as the thylacine became increasingly rare at the beginning of the 20th century, there were behavioural changes within the wild population to reflect this compromised status.  This of course has always been true with captive individuals.  Therefore, when commenting on the "natural" behaviour of the thylacine, a degree of caution needs to be exercised with observations made on what would have been a stressed population in the early part of the 20th century.  Nineteenth century accounts are far more likely to be reliable representations of what might be termed "normal" behaviour.


    The thylacine is the largest marsupial carnivore to exist within Australia in modern times, and has traditionally been viewed as being ecologically closer to the smaller canids, like the fox or the coyote, than the wolf.  The earliest record relating to the thylacine's diet was that made by Harris (1808):

    "On dissecting this quadruped, nothing particular was observed in the formation of its viscera, & C., differing from others of its genus.  The stomach contained the partly digested remains of a porcupine anteater, Myrmecophaga aculeate (=Tachyglossus aculeatus)".

Prey species of the thylacine
Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus)
Long-nosed potoroo
(Potorous tridactylus)
Eastern bettong (Bettongia gaimardi)
Eastern bettong
(Bettongia gaimardi)
Eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii)
Eastern barred bandicoot
(Perameles gunnii)

Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Short-beaked echidna
(Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus)
Red-necked wallaby
(Macropus rufogriseus)
Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)
Eastern grey kangaroo
(Macropus giganteus)

Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus)
Common wombat
(Vombatus ursinus)
Tasmanian pademelon (Thylogale billardierii)
Tasmanian pademelon
(Thylogale billardierii)
Sheep [Merino] (Ovis aries)
Sheep [Merino]
(Ovis aries)

    The thylacine is a pursuit predator; its natural habitat being a mixed mosaic of dry eucalypt forests, wetlands and grasslands.  The thylacine's prey species feed on the woodland edge, where the grasses tend to be at their richest.  It is these areas therefore that form the hunting grounds of the thylacine.

back to: Reproduction and Development (page 8) return to the section's introduction forward to: Behaviour (page 2)

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